Day 6 – Thurs 20 October

5am
Wakey wakey, Campers! The organisers have wisely decided to bring our starting times one hour earlier in anticipation of a very hot day out in the desert. The sun has yet to rise and the Orange glides darkly and silently by. We’re keen to get going again. The rest day was wonderful and welcome, but we can smell home now. Today and tomorrow we head steadily east, ever closer to cold beers, cokes and water. We can almost taste them.

Our gazebos are in an L-shape on a sandy beach overlooking the river, and we take our last look at this spot of paradise. Over the distant hills the rising sun shoots pastel blues and pinks into the sky, and the ducks paddle out for breakfast.

6am
The first group heads up the sandy river-bed accompanied by cheers of encouragement from the rest of the camp. The middle group moves out at 6.30am and the top guns gallop out half an hour later.

8am
This is one of those hard relentless days in a staged endurance race. There is little to break up the endless slog of sand and one foot in front of the other. The same views and vistas are out there, but they’ve lost their colour in the shimmering heat, and we’ve actually stopped looking around in our struggle to keep going.

The fastest runners pass us in the gorge, and it is a mixture of reassurance and despair that we notice that they are also battling through the soft sand. Where is there harder sand, next to the rocks, near the bushes, in the middle-mannetjie, in the grooves dug deep by a dozen SUVs?

As always, the Check Points are oases in a vast expanse of dry heat. From kilometres away we seek out the white-and-red Mediclinic flags that mark the Check Points and which we have called the Pearly Gates of Heaven. When we spot them we finish our special drinks and empty our water-bottles over our heads in anticipation of a fresh top-up. And as always, the crew do everything they can to make us welcome, refresh us, and get us on our way. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

We tell ourselves it is only 45km today, and at Check Point 3 we celebrate the half-way mark with a rest, a change of socks, a packet of NikNaks, and a cup of FutureLife. And then we get up and keep going. On the one hand we know we are heading for the end-line, but gee it seems as if Estienne is needing to make up the 250 kays as we seem to meander all over the country-side.

The front runners get to our last Campsite just before noon, and the rest of us dribble in over the next five hours. The Mediclinic folk are waiting for us, as are the fabulous massage team from Pure Energy Sports Therapy – Jessica Baker, Fiona McEvoy and Nicole Bottner. Ah, the  absolute bliss of a full-body massage after a demanding day in the office! Thank you, ladies.

We languish under our gazebos in the sandy river-bed, sipping from our allocation of 3 X 1.5l bottles, and wiping ourselves down. The mood is somewhat somber, but also quietly confident. Tomorrow it is just 26km, and after all that we have done, this seems to be a genuine walk in the park. Yes we are hurting in all sorts of places, some of which we didn’t even know we had, but we have so much momentum now that nothing will prevent us from finishing. That beer and coke is but a chip and a putt away!