Calitzdorp, 643km – 06:30 Monday 12th December 2016
One bonus of no longer standing any chance of making the 75 hour cutoff time, was that it made our stops considerably more relaxed affairs. Nico and I were both still keen to complete the full 1,000km route, but there was no longer any specific target time hanging over our heads – aside from a vague notion of “sometime tomorrow“. As a consequence, we didn’t exactly hurry to get moving after our sleep. Both of us grabbed showers, and once again I sat on the wall outside drinking my tea whilst Nico got the rest of his kit together. A flock of small hawks took flight from the tree they had been roosting in a couple of blocks away. Raptors are generally solitary birds, so even without a close look I knew they would be lesser kestrels – their SASOL bird guide entry describes this exact behaviour pretty much word for word. My tea drunk, I went back inside for a last check around the room and to chivvy Nico along. I was keen to get started on the steep climb ahead before the day got any hotter.
After a short freewheel down the main street, our now familiar pattern of LEGOing in began at the foot of the climb out of town. It was worryingly hot at first but, as we rose higher a light breeze blew up and the air cooled considerably. The ramp up and out of town was a slog of maybe 20 minutes, but it wasn’t especially steep or troubling and the reward was more than worth it. A fast downhill rip took us into the sublime beauty of the Huis Rivier valley. Stopping to take a photo I noticed the time – 8am on a Monday morning. It was hard to imagine a more perfect start to any week. I was even looking forward to the much stiffer climb ahead up and out of the valley. I also distinctly remember completely miscalculating it. I mistook the “58” on my Garmin as our current altitude (in fact it was my maximum speed) and in so doing mentally doubled the vertical meters which actually lay ahead.
It was only after I’d sat for a while in a shady picnic spot waiting for Nico that I realised we were in fact over half way to the top of the pass already. Once pedaling again, there was a couple more turns and less than 200m of climbing before we crested the pass. I stopped to grab a photo of the sign, and patted myself on the back for including a small pun with the message to Yoli
Toe is Afrikaans for ‘closed’ – meaning we’d finished it. But it also sounds like “2” which was the number of times we’d ridden the pass, and is also the sign on one of the bridges in the valley at the bottom. Sadly, the pun wasn’t as good as my ride-weary brain imagined, and Yoli just took it at it’s literal meaning.
From the outward ride I knew that, whilst tough, the pass was not the only challenging obstacle between us and Ladismith – the road undulated for most of the way, with a couple of long uphill hauls, the first of which was clearly visible just beyond the hamlet of Zoar below us. But another, much less welcome challenge joined us before we even got there. Exiting the pass onto a high Karoo plateau was like riding into a blast furnace. And just to worsen my spirits, a tour bus cut me so close it nearly wiped me out. I tried to remember the company so I could report the driver – but sadly, the name has gone now. I ground on into the heat, taking regular small sips of water in the vain hope they’d quench my thirst. They didn’t, but I guess they must have kept me somewhat hydrated. Lost in the seemingly endless slog, I must have missed hearing Nico call out – only later did I learn he’d punctured somewhere along this stretch. Our natural riding speeds would probably have seen us separated along here anyway, but it must have been frustrating that I was in sight and almost in earshot when it happened.
Eventually, the last rise was overcome and the long downhill run into Ladismith began. The air was stifling, with almost no cooling effect despite the increased speed. I laboured up the tiny incline into town, seeming to take an age to reach the cool of the garage up ahead. For the second time on this ride I sat on the Steers bench – sipping on a chocolate milkshake, heat exhausted, dehydrated, and wondering if there was any way I’d be able to carry on.
Ladismith control, 692km – 10:35 Monday 12th December 2016
Initially, my only concern (apart from this finally would be the end of my ride) was getting hydrated again. Nico had bought me an old style, classic Lucozade in Hartenbos – the kind your mum bought you as a kind when you were under the weather. This seemed like an excellent idea so I picked one up, in addition to the milkshake and Vitamin water I was already holding. In fact I think I bought Nico one in return too. But for my part I made a fatal mistake in not sticking to the orange flavour. My mouth ulcers screamed out in pain at the acidity of the tropical variety. As Nico’s drinks grew warm on the bench next to me it dawned on me that something must have happened for him to be that far behind. I kicked myself for being such a crap riding partner when I finally noticed the message that he’d punctured. He looked less than amused when he did pull in – he’d suffered just as badly in the cauldron which was the road from Zoar.
Time ebbed away from us there at the Steers. Nico did the smart thing, and crashed on the floor in the corner – getting some solid hours of decent sleep. I dithered around, alternating between swapping messages with Yoli, Henri, Peter and Theunis, and checking the weather, and finally getting some food inside me once the fluid levels were topped up and I could eat again. I guess I did nap, but not for more than a few minutes. It took a few hours, but eventually I felt revived enough that it seemed vaguely possible to at least head out and try and make it to Barrydale. Time was not on our side, and I knew if we didn’t leave soon we’d miss out on a chance of a break at Ronnnie’s Sex Shop which I seemed to recall was around half way into the next leg. I made the mistake of stepping outside to check the temperature – not only was it still stiflingly hot, but there was a strong wind blowing in completely the wrong direction. For the second time we’d be battling a headwind across that long, barren stretch of crinkle-cut desert road. Yoli told me later in the ride that watching our dots on the tracker, it seemed like the Karoo was a prison from which we would never escape. At that moment, it could not have been a more accurate description, and it wasn’t about to get any less accurate in the kilometers to come.
A little before 3pm we finally hauled our asses off the floor and benches, and battled up the short incline out of town. Resisting the full force of the wind, we had finally managed to put Ladismith behind us. And we were still riding our bikes, not sat in a rescue car. With all the resolution of a lifelong addict, I’d failed in my 4th attempt at quitting The Beast. It was a curiously uplifting feeling, and the humour of it was not lost on either of us. We laughed and smiled at the thought several times over the hours to come.
According to the text from Yoli, it seemed like we had plenty of time to make Ronnie’s before they closed at 9pm. Coupled with the harsh riding conditions it made for a slow passage, with frequent stops for snacks and water. We were closing in on halfway, and having failed to see Ronnie’s “just over the next hill” for about the third time, we began to doubt our memory of where the bar actually was. At the next stop, Nico pulled out his phone and checked on Google Maps. Surely the answer was wrong though? According to Google Maps, Ronnie’s was still a full 18km away. And then came the hammer blow. We made the mistake of calling ahead to confirm they would be open. A voice we took to be Ronnie’s, but later discovered was his son, apologised but said he was just leaving, Monday being the day they close early at 5pm. It’s hard to capture the depth to which our spirits sank after that call. We sat there a little dumbstruck. There was still around 40km of riding between us and Barrydale. We were running low on water, and in all probability anywhere that might have served food would be long closed by the time we got there. Before saddling up, I whizzed Yoli a couple of messages to see if she might be able to find someone still open. Whilst she researched, we ground slowly onward, the wind now hitting us with vicious blasts in between lulls. Dark grey clouds rolled across the mountains on the horizon – Henri’s surprising prediction of rain looked very much like it was on it’s way to meet us too.
It’s always surprising how sometimes in the lowest of moments you find your greatest strength – “Dunkirk Spirit” as Brits would call it. Tired and dejected, we made painfully slow progress at our pedestrian pace – but we were far from broken. In fact, our banter was lively and upbeat. We couldn’t change the task ahead so we just got on with it, and made whatever plans we could. The main one of those being we would knock on any house we saw which looked vaguely open and at least see if we could beg some water to see us to the next control. In fact, it wasn’t a farm we stopped at first but rather a farm bakkie emerging from a gate on the right – the house itself presumably some way out of sight where the dirt road wound up into the hills. The owner confirmed what we already knew – Ronnie’s now really was only about 5km off, but would be closed. He did also tell us about Warmwaterberg Spa though which was almost opposite Ronnie’s. I’m rather glad Nico only told me about the beer and chips he’d seen in the back of the bakkie once it had driven off. With two of us and only one of him, the temptation might have been too great. Before heading on I checked my messages – Yoli had found one possible option, but they were only open until 9pm and we would likely arrive at least an hour after that.
As we covered the rest of the distance we debated whether a 3 or 4km detour ride up a dirt road was worth the chance. If open, it might provide our only chance at a hot meal tonight. But if not, it would be a waste of time and energy and also probably trash our tyres. When finally we reached the road sign indicating the turn, there was no phone number to call and check – and no cellphone reception anyhow. The chalets on the hillside were just visible, but it was hard to make out if there were any lights on. It was a tough decision – we pedalled past slowly, instead looking towards a lit up farmhouse also on the right. And then lady luck smiled on us. For some odd reason, instead of the obvious choice, we decided to turn left towards what looked like an empty and unlit house a short way off the road. It didn’t look any more inviting or inhabited when we reached the end of the drive, dismounted, and walked across the lawn. At least there didn’t appear to be any dogs. I offered to go around the back and see if maybe there was at least a tap we could use to fill our bottles. Ducking through a wire gate, I couldn’t be sure but I thought I saw a light on through a side window. And when I rounded the back of the house, I spotted two fridges humming gently in an alcove on the far side of the rear stoep. I knocked on the door and called out a couple of times. No answer. I was on the verge of giving up and going back to Nico, when I heard footsteps inside. We might be in luck – assuming whoever was coming to the door wasn’t armed with a shotgun ready to fend off intruders.
Fortunately, the owners seemed more amused than suspicious of these strange, somewhat smelly folk, out riding bicycles here in the middle of nowhere, on a stormy night. By the time Nico had made his way around we had established several important facts. First of these was that, quite by chance, the door we had knocked on was the house of Ronnie himself and his wife. Second was that, not only did they have water, but ice too. Moment’s later Ronnie’s wife was filling our bottles in the kitchen whilst their grandchildren and great grandchild stared at us in curiosity. Third, and most important of all, was what we had found earlier in Calitzdorp. Out here, in the remote nothingness, a rare and beautiful warmth and friendliness still thrives. As we inquired into possible places to eat in Barrydale, Ronnie suggested driving us up the dirt road opposite to the restaurant at Warmwaterberg. But we had to hurry, as they’d be closing soon. It was an offer too generous to question. So we just followed him out to his bakkie, hopped in, and moments later were bumping up the track towards the same chalets we’d peered at earlier.
We almost missed out – they were closing up as we arrived, but luckily being friends of Ronnie, the staff agreed to keep the kitchen open long enough to feed us. Nico grabbed snacks and chips from the tuck shop outside for later that night, whilst I got an order in for beers and hot food. My eyes could not get beyond the mouth watering sight of Karoo Lamb Pie and Malva Pudding on the menu. I forget what Nico had, maybe a burger. The food was generous and hearty. My plate had not just an enormous and very tasty pie on it, but 2 different types of potatoes, rice, mielies, gem squash, and probably a few other veg I’ve forgotten. As we ate ourselves to bursting, Ronnie sat and regaled us with stories – everything from how his infamous bar got started, to MBA students traveling from the US to study his business model, and any number of other stories in between. Eventually, we were finished, both literally and figuratively – “magies vol ogies toe“, as Afrikaners would put it (tummy full, eyes closed). We bounced down the track back to the farm – in the process startling a duiker, which stood dazzled in the glare of headlights, only jumping out of our path moments before we’d have run him over.
Once back, we confirmed Ronnie’s wife’s suspicions that we were totally mad by refusing the comfort and warmth of a couch or bed inside the house, and choosing to have a nap on the stoep instead. We explained that a short sleep somewhere not too comfortable would make it easier to get going again. It might have sounded perfectly rational to us, but the guys just looked at us like we were mad. What sane person would sleep on concrete outside huddled under a doormat, with the intention of getting back on a bike somewhere around midnight to ride out into a gathering storm. We set our alarms for an hour or so ahead, and both drifted off.
Our first attempt at leaving was short lived. We kitted up, trudged back down the drive way, mounted our bikes with wheels beginning to roll, when the rain finally arrived. At first just light spots, but soon growing towards a full scale downpour. Neither of us in the mood for a soaking, we retreated back to the stoep and sat watching the rain pour down. Putting our ride to one side, it was a glorious and rare sight. Proper, heavy rain in the Karoo in the middle of summer. Ronnie and his wife came out to enjoy the spectacle – the air was heavy with the smell of damp trees and wet earth. Managing to get a phone signal, I checked the forecast. It looked like this was one heavy shower of about an hour, with clear weather after. We decided to sleep it out, and set our alarms another hour ahead. Or rather Nico slept, I was now beyond sleep and rather nervous of our progress. We’d covered barely 100km ridden since our last night’s stop in Calitzdorp. Worse still, another band of rain at around 3am had now appeared on the forecast. If that arrived while we were still here, it would be a serious blow to our chances of finishing the ride at all. I then did something of which I’m not very proud – I lied to Nico.
A bit before 2am I cajoled Nico awake and convinced him that the rain had gone and we needed to get going again. I knew we were in for a soaking somewhere not very far along the road but by then we’d be riding and with no real choice but to carry on.
R62 – 03:00 Tuesday 13th December 2016
The rain arrived bang on schedule. With around 20km before we’d reach Barrydale, we simply rode on through it. It was heavy at times, but not so much as to get completely drenched – although on the fast downhill sections it did give us a good soaking. We rolled along until I reached what seemed like it should be the top of the last significant ramp before the long downhill into town. I pulled over to wait for Nico. The rain now little more than a light drizzle, made no inroads through my nice new bright green jacket. Almost immediately a sense of immense peace and calm descended on me. I switched my lights off and just gazed out over the landscape. The absolute silence swallowed me up and I lost myself until a wobbling light some way off in the distance caught my eye. I’ve no idea how long I stood there, but it was magical. It had been something of a climb to where I was stood, but I was surprised how long Nico’s light took to reach me. I was concerned he’d had a mechanical but he later told me his sense of humor had failed to such an extent that he’d walked for a short stretch. At the time, I did wonder if he’d detected my deception and later on, guilt got the better of me and I confessed to lying about the rain forecast. For now though, we were on our way downhill at last to the final control in the Karoo. We were actually going to escape the vortex – maybe.
Barrydale control, 772km – 04:00 Tuesday 13th December 2016
The Barrydale Backpackers was closed, but we found a corner of their porch to sit and shelter from the rain. Unfortunately, it was anything but protected from the unwanted attention of a rampant localised plague of mosquitoes. Invigorated by the downpour, they sought out any area of exposed flesh – legs, necks etc all came under painful attack. I swapped a couple of messages with Peter. I’m not sure if our refusal to quit inspired him, or he felt sorry for us, but either way he was leaving home to come meet us on the road. And he was bringing coffee and Bronwen’s home made lasagne. If it was half as good as the brownies, we were in for a treat.
At this point Nico’s and my needs diverged. I was uplifted by the thought of seeing Peter for breakfast somewhere around Montagu. Nico on the other hand was eager for a shower and fresh clothes to get motivated and moving again. It felt wrong to be riding out of town solo, but if I’d stayed my ride would have ended there. At that point in time I needed to keep making progress, even if slowly and alone. The first 10km took me gradually back uphill towards Op de Tradouw. I knew the pass was a shorter and more straightforward climb from this side, with a double reward waiting at the top – a long, almost continuous descent down into Montague, which could be enjoyed in the knowledge that only one significant climb remained between us and home. Even so, by the time I reached the foot of the pass I was in need of rest and inspiration. As a watery dawn light spread across the valley I sat on the handily placed crash barrier and stuffed down two of the Bar One bars Nico had bought from the tuck shop the night before. Feeling somewhat revived, I phoned Yoli to update her on the news. We agreed that it was unlikely Nico would catch up by the time I saw Peter, so I’d push on to Robertson before stopping to wait for him. I also noticed an email or message which I think was from Kenneth on the Randonneurs WhatsApp group querying why the tracker showed us stopped in the middle of nowhere. Vaguely recalling something about SPOT Trackers going into a self imposed sleep if they stopped moving for a long period, I fished mine out of the bar bag and powered it off and on again.
A light rain accompanied me up most of the significantly steeper final 6km to the top of the pass. I crawled up slowly, but the gradient was never troubling, even on knees which were too sore to stand and climb for any distance. Once over the top the rain seemed to intensify, or perhaps it was just my speed increasing with the descent. Either way, I was now getting thoroughly soaked, my face stung as it was pelted with rain drops traveling upwards of 50km/h. It might have been a miserable experience, had I not been rushing down the valley towards clear weather, lasagne, and coffee. As it happened, I didn’t feel like coffee by the time I reached the outskirts of Montague and Peter. With the clouds gone, the morning was suddenly heating up and a glass of cold Coke seemed like a much better companion to one of the best tasting plates of pasta I have ever eaten. I could have happily sat much longer enjoying Peter’s fabulous hospitality but, despite his assurances, I was nervous that Cogmanskloof might get closed for blasting with it now being Tuesday. Plus, Nico’s message confirmed that he was underway again and would be looking forward to his own helping of Bronwen’s lasagane. So Peter and I parted company – him heading back to Nico, and me onward into town and the start of the roadworks. My knees were troubling me, and I was in need of painkillers. But wasting time seemed like a bad plan, so I decided to push on and look for a pharmacy in Robertson.
Traffic through the Stop-Go sections in the kloof was much heavier than on our way out the previous Saturday. Several times I found myself uncomfortably close to long lines of cars and trucks in the narrow sections. There was really only one way to avoid them, and that was to pedal like mad to get in front, and hop on to every stretch of gravel or tar which was coned off and provided some isolation from the vehicles. I kept going and going, every moment expecting the wave to catch and engulf me. But somehow, I managed to stay in front just long enough to reach the end of the kloof. I was very relieved at my luck as I rolled into the outskirts of Ashton. Once caught, a steady procession of trucks and cars thundered past me. Even on the double lane main street it was a little unpleasant, but in the narrow kloof it would have been downright nasty.
I did glance at shops either side as I rode through town, but nothing resembling a pharmacy caught my eye and I was soon heading out of town. It’s about 15km from the edge of Ashton to the roundabout at the start of Robertson and, enjoying only our second decent tailwind of the ride, I positively flew it. OK, that’s how it felt anyhow. In truth, it took me about half an hour – but with 845km in my legs, an average speed of 30km/h not only felt respectable, but it put a stupidly large grin on my face too. Travelling faster also helped stave off the heat too – which hit me as soon as I slowed down to ride through the town. It was sweltering. I instantly sought the shelter of a Wimpy, and in doing so lucked out completely by finding a Clicks pharmacy next door with a helpful assistant who supplied Ibuprofen for me, and Myprodol for Nico. I sat down and texted him the good news as I enjoyed my pot of tea, and waited for a coke float and toastie to arrive.
Robertson control, 862km – 10:10 Tuesday 13th December 2016
The Wimpy proved to be a comfortable and welcoming place to wait for Nico. The owner even found me a two pin plug adapter so I could charge my phone. I was a little put off by a disdainful look from one of the waitresses until I realised what she was looking at. I had my feet up on one of their chairs, and the bottom of my socks were a truly disgusting sight. I shuffled the back of the chair around so at least they were hidden from the other diners. One of my incoming messages was from Peter saying that Nico was en route, and had asked if I’d wait for him. Honestly, for a couple of moments on the blast from Ashton I’d wrestled with the desire to just get the ride over with now the end was so close. But there would be no sense of victory to arrive alone after enjoying such amazing company across all those physical and emotional ups and downs. Without question, we had to finish this thing together.
Nico arrived and whilst he ate, I took the opportunity to down a second coke float – my newly acquired habit was in full force by now. On the ride in, I’d noticed how the black patches of my Castelli shirt acted like little lasers burning into my back. Now, past midday, it was meltingly hot and I decided to risk disgusting our waitress again by changing back into my Cape 1,000 shirt. I did at least manage to partially hide my pasty white body behind a pillar as I disrobed. The jersey I put on was just as smelly, but instantly cooler.
Eventually, there was nothing for it, if we wanted to get home whilst it was still Tuesday we were going to have to brave the heat. We shouldn’t have worried though. Aside from the short climb directly out of Robertson itself, and the longer more gradual incline up to Rooiberg, the bulk of the journey to Worcester was refreshingly cool and enjoyable. The strong tailwind combined with long descents had us flying the 40km in around an hour and a half. Finally our luck seemed to have turned. We stopped briefly on the way in to Worcester to catchup with a buddy of Nico’s and top up on cold drinks, before striking out towards the second last control of the ride. Rather than follow the normal route past Nekkies and round Brandvlei dam, we took a short section of N1 onto the R102 towards Rawsonville. Distance wise, there was no difference, but our altered route had the benefit of a largely deserted road, whose direction maximised every last breath of tail wind before turning us into the start of Slanghoek valley. We headed straight for our much frequented bush pub, arriving just in time to persuade them to keep the kitchen open for one last meal.
Rawsonville control, 933km – 16:13 Tuesday 13th December 2016
Finally, we got pizza – delicious ones at that, if a little unsual. It wasn’t clear if there’d been a mixup with our order, or if kitchen always served Hawaiin pizza with barbeque chicken rather than ham. Either way it didn’t matter. Combined with a couple of Windhoek lagers they hit the spot perfectly. The staff brought us the bill, and then closed up and headed for home – leaving us alone in their garden. We took the last, and perhaps best nap of the ride, Nico spread out on the cool of the grass, and me lying on top of one of the tables. I’d learned a painful lesson earlier in Ladismith that it’s much easier to roll off a table or bench, than risk searing cramps trying to get up off the floor on overworked legs. I lay there gazing up through the leaves of the towering oak trees and relaxed completely. We were almost there.
We’d almost reached the gate with our bikes before a childish impulse overtook us. We propped our bikes up, and ran into a nearby lawn sprinkler. A circular ribbon of water cascaded down on us each time it passed around, and we splashed around in it like a couple of gleeful kids. The shadows were lengthening though, and time eventually caught up with us and we pushed on. The 20km of Slanghoek valley sped by, still aided by that helpful wind. Turning back to cross the Breede and head into Bainskloof was a different matter altogether though. Howling gusts rushed down the pass ahead, almost halting our progress. Surprised to find it open, we decided to pull into the Kalabash Bush pub to fill up water bottles. Aside from us and the lady owner, it was utterly deserted. A gaping hole and a pile of ash beyond were all that remained of the doorway and bar which had once stood there. Clearly rumours of the fire had been true, despite appearing intact from the outside. They were open though, and the outside seating areas undamaged. We sat and downed a couple of cokes whilst watching the wind thrashing through the trees. Somewhat miraculously, it did seem to die down considerably by the time we left.
The sun was down as we rode slowly up the winding pass, the moon lighting our passage again as it had done coming down this stretch of road four days ago. I stopped to try and get a picture of it, but my phone camera failed to do it justice. We were already part way up the last climb of the ride and both commented how very soon, and abruptly, the journey was going to be over. A ride that at times seemed like it would never end, was going to be done in a flash. And then the party began. Slowly, at first. Nico’s mum joined to drive with us up the last section of the climb. Once over the top, the wind nearly blew me backwards into her car. I had to stand and pedal to get down the first long straight but, once low enough we were protected and our wheels could spin up to full speed. The few oncoming cars were announced well in advance by their lights, leaving us free to rip through the snaking turns using the full width of the road the rest of the time.
Wellington control, 986km – 21:41 Tuesday 13th December 2016
The party kicked up a notched at the Steers in Wellington when Chris van Zyl drove into the parking lot and joined us at our table. Stories of the ride began to flow as we sat slurping milkshakes. But we weren’t quite there yet, it was time to finish this beast of a ride. And it was going to be a finish that neither of us would ever forget. We made rapid progress back to Paarl, at which point the longest main street in the country became the longest finishers party in the country. Chris and Nico’s mum had already formed our own little cavalcade through town when a horn tooted behind us. It was Theunis and, to my surprise and delight, Yoli was sat in the passenger seat. Our welcoming procession rolled through town, and out onto the dark open road for the last time. Chris had music pumping out from his car, and smiles and banter flowed. Theunis later commented that we cranked up our pace considerably over those last few kilometers, clocking over 40km/h at times on his speedo. I’ve no idea if that was an accurate reading, but I do remember my legs spinning rapidly and easily – “no chain” is the term sometimes given to this effortless feeling of pedaling without any apparent resistance.
The distance evaporated under our wheels, and in a blink we were swinging left back onto the R304 towards Nico’s farm.
“Keep it up, you need to make it before midnight”
Yoli called from the car. Despite my doubt, her encouragement proved remarkably accurate. The Vrede gate came into view literally a minute before the clock rolled over to Wednesday. And, just like that, the toughest ride I had ever attempted – and the most incredible welcoming parade I’d ever experienced came to an end.
Vrede Wines, 1026km – 23:59 Tuesday 13th December 2016
Chris had attempted to snap a few pictures and videos as we rode through Paarl, but the low light defeated his phone camera. Yoli didn’t fare much better as we rode up Vrede’s driveway – but somehow, the ghostly blur of us riding along that line of trees in the night seems to capture the very essence of how I was feeling over those last few meters. We had battled and overcome this beast of a ride and, against all the odds, here we were finishing together. We headed straight for Nico’s stoep, and possibly the most welcome celebratory beer I have ever tasted.