|On the way to Nuwe Kloo|
We planned to ride thru to the Rondawel farm house (an interim stop) almost 190km away. We still had to climb out of the kloof to Willowmore. Another long day in the saddle. Scott told us the evening before that he’ll only ride to Willowmore – he planned to leave at 7am. Leon was on alarm duties for the day. We wanted to get up at 4am to get into the road at 5am, but were only woken up at 5am. He accidently set his alarm an hour later.
We got stuck around the breakfast table, with lots of laughter and friendly banter. The whole pink panther story was relayed to Hestelle. And with tears rolling down everybody’s cheeks, in walked Scotty. He was much surprized to still find us at breakfast – we should have been long gone. He almost appeared disappointed to find us still there. When we left around 6 am, he told us that he’ll take off around 8am.
Riding out of the kloof, I was feeling very weak. I suppose the previous 3 days hard effort caught up with me. My mind was also wavering a bit on the effort to keep up with Leon and JT. They waited a lot for me. At one such stop they decided to stop at the Baviaans Curio Shop for coffee. I was grateful for the break. As we were having coffee, Scotty rode down the road.
His 1st reaction was to not see us, but the 3 boertjie waived him over, ordered some more coffee and made him pay for everything… That will teach him some bike ethics, more on that later.
He gave up riding on his own, and decided to join us all the way to Willowmore. I was still battling to stay with the group and whilst going up the Nuwe Kloof pass, decided that I’ll go as far as Willowmore. I couldn’t tell the others because they were too far ahead of me and thought that I’ll send them a message once I got some cell reception again. I stopped frequently to take in the scenery (and some photos). I needed to get the fun factor back.
Great was my surprize when I found Leon, JT and Scotty sleeping next to the road at the top of the 2nd climb out. They also decided that they’ll only ride to Willowmore – they also needed to find their fun factor. Leon did send me a message earlier, but I only got the message once back in Willowmore.
We got into Willowmore and stopped at the 1st coffee shop we saw. As we were ordering food, a gentleman walked up to us, introducing himself as Paul Moult. He drove through from George to give me a product to fix my bike! It’s called Wrap-Tech. He handed me two packets of the product and explained in much detail how it works. The packet only weighs about 100g and consists out of a small piece of steel Pratley Putty and a small bandage with some bonding agent in it. He offered to put it on the broken piece of frame, but the food arrived and I said to him that I’ll do it later in the day and send him the pictures.
I never fixed the frame and felt very guilty about it. When we arrived at the Willow Hotel, I phoned Elitza to tell her about the last few days and the change in plans. I must have sounded like crap, because it was a short chat. I slept the whole afternoon.
Everybody caught up on some much needed sleep that afternoon. We all sounded much better around the dinner table and were treated to the biggest T-bone I have ever seen. I wolfed it down in only a few of minutes. The rest and dinner must have revitalized me, I had a lot nicer chat with Elitza later on.
We planned to leave around 3 am the next morning, but Glenn (race director) told us that there’s no need, because we only wanted to go to Prince Albert. It normally only takes about 12 hours to get there. So we changed to leave at 5am.
We got going at 4am, JT… need I say more? We picked up another rider, Scott Rutherfoord, a very quiet, confident person. He grew up in Mkuze, not too far from Richards Bay. Whilst we climbed up the Osseberg I mentioned to Scotty that if the Freedom has not yet broken him, we 3 will. He’ll have to take all comments in his stride. He just nodded and off he went.
|The 3 boetjies reunited again|
As the dear man rode up the berg in front of me, I saw something very disturbing. Scotty’s long pants showed pink in my bike light and to make matters worse it appeared that he was wearing a thick black j-string. That was unsettling to say the very least. This became a big point of discussion between the 3 boertjies. Every time we cracked a joke on the Pink Panther, he just smiled, which unsettled us even more.
|The Osseberg portage|
I was forced to take it slow down the other side of the Osseberg protage, because my brakes started failing.
The Pink Panther took 3 tumbles on the way down, the 1st tumble we nearly lost him – he just about saved himself going over a cliff. Everything was frozen when we eventually got to the bottom. It was light, but the sun was not up yet, and anyway the sunrays will not reach the bottom until closer to noon.
We all reluctantly took off our warm clothes, but were thankful for the Pink Panther to return to Scotty – the verdict on him was still very much undecided.
You have to cross the Groot River 10 times whilst trying to find a very overgrown osse trail out of the kloof. As explained to Brad and the newbies, when you get to the river, don’t hesitate, pick your bike up and just cross it. The river is about chest high deep and very overgrown with reeds. The 3 boetjies crossed without incident, and were battling to get out the other side when we heard someone use the holy cape flats phrase:” Ahh P***”. We were just in time to see our Scotty and his bike going for a swim downstream. Scotty! That word shalt not be uttered anymore.
|The Groot River portage – there is a river there in between those reeds|
We were utterly confused by the situation. So we did what we know best, find the trail and continue downstream. We nailed the portage and got into Kudu Kaya around noon. We had at least 2 hours to get to the boom gate, which is only about 20 min away.
The conundrum of Scotty’s, err, situation got the better of Leon, and the Brackenfeller in him took over. He approach Scotty very direct :”Scott, not that I’ve got any problems with it, but are you gay?” Scott’s response was a very quiet, no – he’s got a wife and 3 kids. The Brackenfeller was however very persistent: ”So you have not yet came out of the closet…” Poor Scotty was a confused man, but responded in the best way possible:” F*** off man, you got me there! You’re funny!”. There was a very audible collective sigh of relieve
To our surprize and my luck, the Kamp Kommandant was in at the support station. He gave our trackers new batteries, and he had enough tools to fix my brakes. A quick topping up of brake fluid did the trick. I was very concerned about going down the Bergplaas pass without brakes.
As if the boom gate curfew was not enough, the Baviaans Kloof bureaucracy thought it a good idea to force the race office to have someone riding behind us through the conservancy – its 60km long that include 3 proper climbs. The beauty of the Baviaans is tainted by this. We always felt under pressure to ride as fast as we can. The engine noise rumbled away all piece and quite of the Kloof. I tried to stop every now and then to take everything in, but it just was not the same.
The Baviaans Kloof is a very special, beautiful place. It’s very lush and there are streams everywhere that you cross. There are photo opportunities around every corner, if you care to linger a bit. We did none of that. We spent a lot of energy to get to the other boom gate as fast as possible. When we did get to the other gate, we were a broken bunch.
After the bakkie left, we just sat there on the ground, eating whatever we still had left on us. I remember being very amused when I saw water trickling out of the top of my shoes. I’ve got Gore-Tex Winter boots, which is supposed to be water proof. But I suppose crossing the river 10 times in the morning, without taking off my shoes filled them up to the brim. It was now 8pm and I’ve carried the water all the way to this spot.
After a while Leon and JT spoke Russian to each other – we called it Russian, but its gibberish due to being so tired. They continued with this for a long time, amusing Scotty and I.
At least no one fell asleep whilst riding, which has happened to me before.
At Dam se Drift there were 2 sheep on the front lawn. When I went thru the gate they walked up to me and greeted me like dogs. According Hestelle that is just the case, they grew up with dogs and are totally confused. I didn’t mind them at all, especially when they were standing around my legs, I was covered in fluffy warm wool.
Due to the long day before we decided to only get up at 5:30am, but thanks to JT we only started rolling after 7am. We planned to ride thru to Hadley today (about 170km) to set us up to catch the boom gate at the entrance of the Baviaans Kloof open in time. This is new on the Freedom trail, something the Baviaans Kloof bureaucracy forced upon the race office.
|On the way to Addo.|
We started off riding through the Darlington Dam section of the Addo Elephant National Park. A place I always wanted to see, and saw a lot of wild life – no elephants though. On the way down from the dam wall, we flew over a low water bridge and heard a “kink” sound. We could not see that we dropped anything so carried on.
|The start of the Gwaas valley|
|Riding thru the Gwaas valley|
Whilst riding up the Gwaas valley, I struggled to get into a rhythm and my knees started to hurt. My saddle bag kept on chaffing on the rear tyre, no matter how many times I stopped to tighten the straps. Eventually when we went through the Perdepoort the chaffing got so bad that I got off the bike to properly inspect it.
It was then that I saw the broken frame – I rode about 30km on a broken frame! I was furious and dejected. Another broken frame! It’s not possible!
We were about 12km from Kleinpoort (a settlement of about 20 houses). I said my goodbyes to Leon and JT. Leon wanted to stay, but I refused. This is an individual race, I had no idea how long it’s going to take me to fix it and they had to get to Hadley, else they’ll miss the Baviaans boom gate.
Reluctantly they left. This is the Karoo, there are only hip height bushes around. Not much that I could do but to get to Kleinpoort and see if I can sort it out then. I resorted to a fast walk on the hills and putting as much weight as possible on the handle bar riding on the flats and downhill. When I got some cell reception, I contacted the Kamp Kommandant, and send a message on the Whatsapp group. I also phoned Elitza about the ordeal. I assured her that I will finish the race, come hell or high water.
I couldn’t get any help at first at Kleinpoort. So I went to the local padstal to get something to eat. The padstal owner told me that I needed to find the general dealer owner, Willem. If there is anybody that can help, he’ll be the person. Willem was very interested in finding out why the frame broke and inspected it from all sides. When I told him about my previous fix, he shoved both me and the bike onto his bakkie and took off to his house about 7km away where he apparently had a small workshop.
When we arrived I saw a fair size engineering workshop. It only took a few minutes to find a suitable stainless steel pipe, cut it to the right length and hammer it inside the down pipe. Willem was a little bit enthusiastic on the repair job, and hammered it in a bit too much, thereby cracking the bottom part of the down pipe and lifting the top part by about 2cm. We had to cut my seat post stem so that my feet could touch the pedals again. I tested the bike and everything seemed fine.
|The fixed 2nd frame – stainless steel pipe right down its throat|
Willem dropped me off at front of his shop and with a friendly handshake wished me luck. He joked that if the frame held he wanted patent rights. What a man! I informed the race office of the bike fix, they informed me that Ollie form PYGA has flown a frame down to Port Elizabeth, and that I’ll be able to pick it up at Kudu Kaya (Cambria) the next day. I declined the offer, having full faith in the fixed frame.
I also gave Elitza a ring informing her that I’m a relieved, happy rider again. It was 4pm I had to get going properly to get to Bucklands. Marnitz phoned me, according him it’s about a 3 hour ride to Bucklands, and a 5 hour ride to Hadley. At that pace I would have been in at midnight in Hadley – I decided to go for it.
I got to Buklands 5:15pm! When I got there, I slurped down the soup, whilst explaining to Hannes how we fix the frame. His wife, Rinni, replaced the soup with the most delicious kudu mince bolognaise.
Kudus hunted on their farm. That stuff was rocket fuel. They explained the route out of the farm in detail. I recited the route twice and then had to go to the cottage to sign in and out of the race register. There I met up with Brad vd Westhuizen (aka Engelsman) and his troops. He knew I’ve done the Osseberg and Groot river portage before and I had to explain in detail what to look for and how to tackle it. I wasted a bit of daylight minutes, but the Groot river portage is not known as Mordor for nothing. They are all newbies and would need all the help they can get fighting thru it.
I got going at 6pm, after I forgot my helmet in the main house. Hannes’s detailed route descriptions were spot on and I raced along climbing slightly out of the valley. At the speed I was going, I suspect that there was a slight tail wind, but every time I stopped to open and close a gate I didn’t feel anything.
An hour and a half later, higher up in the Baviaans Mountains the rocket fuel ran out. I had about another 10km to go and the sleep monsters where taking hold of me. It was a proper fight. I was imagining all kinds of things, even seeing the devil, with shining eyes and horns at some stage. It turned out to be a cow.
The reaction of my riding buddies when I walked into the Hadley farm house was priceless. I rode these sections in a little under 4 hours, it normally takes riders about 8 hours. I gave my all and was feeling it properly. I immediately went for a shower to get the cold out of my bones. Then I got shoved in front of the huge coal stove by Anine. She fed me a lot of food, and then some more.
Bennie informed me that Marnitz will phone me on the landline in 20min. Cell phones stopped working just before Bucklands, and we’ll have very little reception all the way until we got near Willowmore. My concerned older boet wanted to know how the body was acting up, how’s the frame and then resorted to give advice on tomorrow’s section, especially what time to leave.
He was fairly adamant that we had to leave at 3am.
We wanted to leave at 2am, but only got going at 3am – thanks JT. There was a good reason why we wanted to push thru to Rockdale the evening before. The next day would have been 28km shorter. That 28km took us 3 hours to ride. You climb for 26km to get into the Mountain Zebra national park.
When we eventually got to Rockdale we were very happy about sleeping over at Newlands. Rockdale is an old dilapidated farmhouse. There were only a few mattresses and 2 sleeping bags, no hot water and no electricity, only a primus stove. The house was very cold, although it did shade us from the rain. We made a few mugs of coffee before taking on the Schufteberg portage. It’s not very challenging navigation wise, but the soft mud underfoot made for slow going. And it was snot freezing cold, so the descent on the other side was very not enjoyable.
I would like to do the downhill on a warm day again, because I think you can go completely bonkers and will have one of the bigger smiles on your face when you do eventually get to the bottom of it!
It’s a long stretch of farm roads to Grootdam. Grootdam is pleasantly warm bushveld country. It’s only about 25km (as the crow flies) from Schufteberg, but it’s a totally different world. I was only riding with my short sleeve shirt on. We had a delicious brunch of thick soup, and vetkoek and mince.
We were ready to tackle the Struishoek portage, or so we thought…
A mountain bikers’ worst nightmare is not to work your butt of going up a long climb. It is to not be able to enjoy the fruits of your hard work going up that long climb. Struishoek is basically a 15km long climb on a rock strewn jeep track, interspersed ever 50m by drainage mounds. It takes about 2h30m to get to the nek. You breathe a sigh of relieve and ride a total of 500m on flat ground, when a confused look appear on all newbies’ faces.
The local farmer has painted some rocks white to show the route down the beautiful valley. If not for these white rocks, you would not believe that you have to go down this nightmare. It takes about 2 hours carrying your bike down the 5.6km. Uhmmm, all part of the adventure I suppose.
Leon suffered from shin splints – he did not enjoy this particular section one little bit. I took in the beautiful scenery, some photos and had a quiet chuckle about this little piece of heaven. This is how the trail should be.
|The Struishoek decsent – at the top|
We made good time to the Gegun farmstead and had a quick dinner of frozen farmer style curry & rice. For once we were in and out in 30min – with JT nogal hurrying me to get going. And then the night adventure to Toekomst started. We took a little detour to the Van Deventer’s farmstead, because I made a 200m miss calculation. Only a couple km of extra riding, no harm done.
|Struishoek portage – on the way down|
|Struishoek portage – when you eventually get to the bottom.|
We entered the Koedoeskop Game Farm, where there are a tremendous amount of jeep tracks to follow. And we spent some time following a few of them. This must be a really beautiful place to see in daylight. We eventually got onto the right track and made good time up to the electrified game fence. The gate was locked, but the narratives indicate that there is a place in a stream where you can crawl under the fence.
Leon thought he punctured his rear tyre and we promptly got out some tyre sealant to fix the problem. Leon used his specialized pump, but it broke. So I got my pump out. After inflating his tyre, the sealant was pouring out of the valve near the rim. So we took the tyre off and replaced the valve, poured more sealant in and tried to inflate the tyre using the pump. The tyre did not want to seal, so we used a CO2 canister (bomb) to get air quickly into the tyre. It’s not a good idea to inflate tyres with sealant, with a CO2 bomb, because the CO2 reacts with the sealant and the sealant is then not very effective.
After a couple more attempts to get the tyre to seal, we saw that the rim tape inside the valve got damaged. Nothing we could do but put in a tube. However this is camel thorn country, and thorns and tubes don’t go well together. It was cold, we were tired and it was past midnight. First Leon double checked his tyre to remove all old thorns still stuck in it. But he rushed the job a bit and pinched his tube putting it into the tyre. Filled the tube with slime and attempted to inflate it, without success. Throughout this ordeal JT, decided to take a snooze right in the middle of operation tyre fix. He was snoring within 10 seconds of curling up. We unfortunately had to wake him to get a spare tube from him.
|Fixing a puncture in the dead of the night|
We were out of bombs, had 1 last tube of slime and JT’s spare tube. We went about fixing this tyre very diligently and it held! Needless to say we took it very easy riding out of this valley, with Leon riding right at the back so that if there are any thorns on the jeep track either me or JT would pick it up. .We had a special moment where we rode into a few giraffe. They were very inquisitive, up to a point where they were only 5m away.
We eventually got to Toekomst at about 1:30am. It was a 230km, 24hour day. At least we had some nice war stories. As we got to the farm house mansion, delirious JT thought it a good idea to ring the doorbell. And the farm owner (Philip) promptly welcomed us at the door dressed in his nighties! We were showed our room and then fed. If this happened at my house, JT would have been shot…
We only left at 5:30am. Leon, Picasso and I were always fairly organised in the mornings and at soup stops. It was a case of getting up, get food down and get going. Enter Jacques Tattersall… Our customary 45/30 min in the mornings/soup stops turned into 1h30m – 2 hours in the mornings and 1 hour for soup stop. He just can’t get going. Different story when he’s on the bike though. The problem of wasting time like this is that you spend much more time on the bike at the end of the day, always at night. But alas, he makes up for it with his very witty, dry sense of humour.
At the start of the ride, Jacques (JT) rode with Picasso, whilst Leon and I were galloping like runaway horses at the front. When we got to the turnoff to the Aasvoëlberg portage, only Jacques emerged from the darkness. Picasso wasn’t feeling too good and decided to turn back. I had mixed feelings about this. A bit guilty about our galloping pace upfront, but also so relieved that I’m away from Picasso’s always negative presence. Picasso went back to Romansfontein, got some rest in (and some spray painting…), and got going again around late morning, without his helmet. When/how he found this out I don’t know, but he had to turn around again to go fetch it. I suppose he knows the route out of Romansfontein by heart now.
JT is a blanket wearer and has done the Race to Cradock earlier in the year. He knows the route fairly well, but still made use of his maps. He enlarged the normal maps, and made clear narratives on it – fairly detailed, i.e. pass old car wreck on left; left at 2nd fallen tree; etc. However, Leon & I devised a system that worked for us. I kept track of the narratives and distances between, he was using his compass extensively with the maps. So JT just grunted his confirmations about our decisions every now and then, not interfering at all.
The Aasvoëlberg portage is a bit of a slog on the ascent side (JT helped us in not slogging up all the way, with a well-timed short-cut) and one of the best downhills of the route. It’s flowy, includes a few speed humps and goes on for miles. Leon and I had some serious kids’ fun, elderly statesman JT took the more conservative option. To top it off we were accompanied by a few reedbucks on the way down as well.
|An old car wreck on Aasvoëlberg|
At the top of Aasvoëlberg
The riding to Hofmeyer is on fast flat dirt roads, so a bored JT pulled Leon apart a bit. He ended up calling Leon:”Brackenfellar”. Partly because Leon grew up in Brackenfell, but more because of Leon’s nature to say things before he thinks. I suspect that he had some really big friends when he grew up to protect him after he blew his mouth off. He is a really funny person.
We had the famous, sumptuous pies at the Karoobos Padstal. A beautiful padstal that we suspected is the hub of the town.
|Karoobos Padstal in Hofmeyer|
Fuelled up properly we headed to the Elandsberg portage. The narratives for this little beauty will have to be re-measured by the race office. I was very thankful for riding with JT and doing it in daylight. There were quite a few newbies that slept out on this portage.
|House in the Karoo|
The Elandsberg support station is a very old, but very beautiful farm house. With old wooden floors and thick internal walls (app 1m in width), this house has got a special charm, as if it wants to tell you its history. Whilst stuffing our faces on the great spread, a dassie ran under the table between our feet. It turns out the she’s tame, but is not too fond of Liezel’s youngest daughter.
On route to Newlands, we’re fortunate enough to pass through Spekboomberg nature reserve. We saw lots of animals, including quite a few sable antelopes. These animals go for between R500k and R6m a piece! We heard lions roar on quite a few occasions, so did not linger too long.
When you exit the nature reserve, you get to the Graaff-Reinet tar road. We only rode on this road for 2km, but were in more danger than anywhere else on the route. It was late Sunday afternoon, and there were a lot of CA taxis going home.
We planned to go to Rockdale, but when we got to Newlands, we were won over by the warm hospitality of the farmer and his family. They’ve got 2 boys the same age as my own. I missed them so much, that I ended up having a proper wrestle and pillow fight with them. We chased each other thru the house, luckily not breaking anything.
Pierre and Azelia just let us be – all were having fun.
Luckily for me we only planned to ride to Romansfontein (about 140km with a 1,500m ascent, with only the Stormsberg Block House portage), an easy day. I prepared breakfast of bacon and eggs for us, and forced the food and a glass of rehydrate down my throat. I told Leon and Worried Gazza that I’ll see how I’ll hold up in the morning, and will make a call if I’m going to take a rest/half day. Unbeknown to me at that time, Worried Gazza also told Leon that they’ll have to leave me behind, because I’ll slow them down.
|Starting off from Kranzkop|
Luckily for me, I must have gotten rid of whatever upset my stomach and started feeling much better. I was being a tourist again, taking lots of photos and sending it on the whatsapp, chatting to Elitza and generally having a ball.
Closer to Broterlea, Worried Gaza, first stuck to my rear tyre, and later on latched onto Leon’s. Whilst we were having a wonderful chat (and lots of soup) with Alta at Brosterlea,
Worried Gaza was having a miserable time, visiting the bathroom constantly.
When we started out to Romansfontein, we dropped Worried Gazza. We were having a blast! We were like kids jumping over speed humps, joking the whole time, laughing a lot. We were escorted by a running herd of Blesbok for 10km! We took photos of everything and spent quite a bit of time at the British ruined forts and block houses at Stormsberg. Even admiring the goings on of a family of ground squirrels. We were happy to be relieved from Worried Gazza’s negative aura.
|Behaving like tourists|
Leon told me his mountain biking background. He did the Trans Baviaans (a non-stop 230km ride) in just over 8 hours!
And he came 3rd in the Munga (1,000km non stop).
Completed 9 Cape Epics! WOW! He is a top endurance athlete! So I asked him how he’s finding the Freedom Challenge? His response stunned me – the toughest race he’s ever tackled… Well… that puts it into perspective.
According Leon, it’s not just the terrain that is so much tougher. It’s the navigation part that contributes greatly to the toughness of the race, especially when you’re doing it at night. Not knowing if you’re on the right route. And the portages… But he loved it, and won’t have it any other way. This is true mountain biking. Good man!
|The Block house at Stormsberg|
Arriving at Romansfontein, we had the unexpected pleasure of sharing the house with Glenn and Meryl – the race directors. It was good to catch up with them.
Glenn, in his quite way, was asking how my arse was doing…? And then produced a tube of anaesthetic ointment for me to use. Interesting…
About an hour later Worried Gazza arrived, appearing even more miserable than before. He was in a very deep dark hole. I gave him some more rehydrate, and Glenn took over talking some positivity in him. He contracted whatever I chucked down the loo at Kranzkop – die blinde sjambok is ‘n bliksem! He spray-painted every loo in the house.
Leon in his normal mischief called him Picasso. So from that moment onward Worried Gazza was rechristened Picasso. Picasso had a dreadful night.
We met another rider, Jacques Tattersal. He started a day after Leon (2 days after me). He apparently took a very bad fall earlier in the race. His legs and arms were testament to that. He was very tired when he got in, but mentioned, he felt like a fresh spring daisy after he saw Picasso.
He asked what our plan for the next day was, and mentioned that it fitted to his. So we planned to ride together the next day.
We started off late this morning, at 5:30 am. Partly because I was the cook of the morning, but also because we started off with 2 portages straight out from the back door of the farm house. None of us had done this section before, so we decided to do most of it in daylight. The first bit is a climb straight up the mountain behind the farm. Marnitz’s advice to do these portages as early as possible was wise, because everything was frozen at the start. I’ve heard horrible stories of the black mud in this area.
Worried Gazza mentioned that it was -7 degrees when we started, but we worked so hard getting up the mountain that we warmed up quite quickly. We followed Andre’s instructions on the route and got the Slaapkranz portage over fairly quickly.
Next on was the Bontehoek portage. This one is a bit longer and trickier to nail. We misinterpreted the narratives and map, and took a much wider approach to the neck. Whilst taking a break near the top, we saw 3 bearded vulture passing above us about 30m away. The bearded vulture is South Africa’s largest bird of prey, with a wingspan of about 2.8m. It was a special moment.
Marnitz warned us not to try riding down the other side of the portage. The downhill doesn’t appear to be innocent, but it definitely looks sort off ride able. And to save the knees going downhill, I attempted the beast… and saw my arse within 20m. The black mud! To be quite honest, I was spending more time sliding on my arse with my bike either on top of, or next to me, than I was spending on my feet. It was a different kind of fun.
Rossouw is a small town to be missed. However the descent after the Rooiberg pass to Moordenaarspoort was an enormous amount of exhilarating fun. Again we waited another 30min for Worried Gaza to arrive at the soup stop. He got lost and just doesn’t seem to enjoy downhills.
|On the wat to Moordenaarspoort|
For the next 40 odd km Worried Gazza stuck to my rear tyre like super glue. He said nothing, didn’t enjoy the pretty country side, just hung onto my slipstream. He was struggling with all things life, basically just being absolutely miserable. As we dropped down to the farmhouse we scared an Aardwolf from its hiding place. It’s amazing how much wild animals and birds you see after you’ve passed Rhodes.
Just before dinner I got stomach cramps. I mistook it for hunger pains, but spent most of the night in the toilet. I took some Imodium and rehydrate thru the night, but I couldn’t keep anything down. At least the toilet had a heater inside!
We left our very cosy residence at around 4 am to tackle the 30km downhill to Rhodes. Or that’s what the 2 blind mice thought, except that there is a nasty climb to the highest point of the route (2,700m). When the descent does arrive however, it is an awesome downhill. But it’s much better to not ride it during a winter cold front. It took poor Worried Gazza a very long time to ride it. He had all his clothes on when he eventually got into Rhodes, about 30min later than us. He just could not fathom how we did it – it’s called vasbyt and get it over as quickly as possible. It also included a bit of frozen rain and snot on the face…
Glenn Harrison and the Kamp Kommandant were waiting for us at Rhodes, just shaking their heads on our unscheduled stop, wondering if the race participants are getting too soft. I got a new bottle holder, Worried Gazza a few spokes and Leon handed out mini wine bottles – he had the novel idea to have a glass of wine at every support station to enjoy with his dinner. Unfortunately for us, the Rubicon kitchen was still closed. So we had to breakfast on a few cups of coffee and whatever we could raid in the rider boxes.
The route to Slaapkranz is easy navigation, only about 100km from Rhodes. But you do climb a fair amount, well over 2,400m, and it’s all done at about 2,000m above sea level. It’s enough to keep any rider busy on a normal day. To do it on an empty tank is ludicrous. Needless to say, we all hit the wall on the 2nd climb on the way to Cheneywold (an interim food stop). Luckily Minkie got us sorted out quickly.
Here we also met an interesting character of the race – Steven Kellerman. The previous year, he & Pierre Oosthuizen were the riders most followed by the Spectators (including me). They got so miserably lost, and slept out so many times, that I actually felt sorry for them. They were given lee-way on the Rhodes cut-off time (8days), but their bodies were eventually so broken that they had to abandon the race. Steven had to pull out of the race again, but this time it was due to work commitments.
The route after Chesneywold follows the Rytjiesvlakte valley and then the Kapok Kraal portage. When your narratives tell you about a car garage where the local farmer leaves his bakkie in snow storms, you know that it gets cold in this part of the country. It was pleasantly mild however, and the Rytjiesvlakte valley is very scenic.
The Kapok Kraal portage is fairly easy. At the bottom of the portage is the old Spitskop farm house. Apparently inside the dilapidated house are beautiful murals painted by a travelling Italian artist. We were however cold, hungry and the sun was setting. From Spitskop there is a boulder strewn farm track, with a stream and krantz on your right, which has to be followed for about 10km to Slaapkranz. It’s proper mountain biking territory and very beautiful – I’ll be back another day properly fuelled to enjoy this section.
Slaapkranz is the farm of Andre and Joice. Immediately when you enter the house, you’re made totally at home. You’re instructed to help yourself in the kitchen – this is your home for the night. We got on with the hosts like a house on fire, if only the house was on fire. This place is past cold, i.e. the cold passes through your skin, sinews and muscles, goes straight to the bones and freezes you from inside out. And you only have cycling clothes to warm you up on the trail. Ah, the pleasures of the trail.
I was out of Malek at 3am going for a big day in the saddle. It’s not very far, only about 118km, but total ascent is almost 4,000m, of which a hell of a lot you can’t ride. It includes Black Fountain, a 400 climb down to Tinana mission, the Vuvu valley portage & the Lehanas portage where you climb up to the Drakensberg escarpment with your bike on your back.
I nailed the portage to Ongeluksnek, thankful for scouting it the previous evening. But I got lost quite a few times on the way up to Thaba Chitja and down the other side. I even lost the route around Black Fountain. Navigation in the dark makes life very interesting. If I didn’t have prior route knowledge I would have been miserably lost.
Still, I made very good time. Getting down to the Tinana mission, you have 3 options climbing down the mountain. I felt adventurous, and decided on a brand new route. Martin Dreyer described it to me a couple of years before. It was the quickest I’ve gotten off the mountain – it took me about an hour. I was so happy with this that I decided to follow a new route to Emjikelweni, the high route.
|Tinana Hang Bridge|
The other route option goes thru dongas (which I’ve done twice before). It turned out to be a mistake, because I don’t particularly enjoy climbing and got lost on the way down the mountain.
When I eventually got to the Vuvu valley, I decided to follow my normal route (the high option). It involves a bit of climbing with the bike on your back, but at least you can see where you’re going. I don’t think it’s the fastest, but I knew the route. I got into Vuvu school at 12pm. What normally take the avg rider 11 hours, took me 9 hours. I was obviously very fresh from the slow pace since the start.
Just as I finished my lunch of now-famous Vuvu chicken (it must be marathon running chickens because it’s very tough to eat). I received a call from Worried Gazza. He formed a group with 2 other riders and has spent 2 consecutive 20 hour days, due to navigational mistakes.
They were known as the 3 blind mice, and were much followed (and loved) by the spectators, serving a lot of excitement no doubt.
He asked if I would wait for him to guide him over Lehanas – it’s a 4km long portage in which you gain 1,000m ascent. There is no doubt that I travel a lot faster when I’m riding on my own. But the company of a group has its advantages – more fun, well mostly.
Before the 3 blind mice started to eat their lunch, they took hands (me included) and prayed. A touching gesture that immediately won my respect for the 2 gentlemen I have not yet met. When introducing each other, Vaughan struck me as a quite person, Leon on the other hand must still be on Ritalin. He’s busy, with an always present twinkle in the eye. He introduced himself as Leon…, spelled with two “g’s”…, carrying on eating his food as is nothing’s wrong. When I stared his way for a few moments, he burst out laughing. I thought: “Ok, this will be a fun bloke to ride with.”
Worried Gazza was eager for us to get going, he even mentioned to me that we need to drop the other two. He was his normal worried self. On the way to the start of Lehanas, I rode a bit with Vaughan. He really seemed to battle something, but did not elaborate on it at all. I took a tumble on the most innocent patch of dirt road, and sprained my wrist badly. Everybody wanted to know how the hell I did it. Not sure, but I couldn’t escape Leon’s funny side of the incident.
|Lehanas – on the top left of the escarpment, is the blue container|
When we eventually started with the Lehanas portage, Vaughan fell behind quickly. Leon eventually turned back to find out what’s wrong. After a while Leon returned, eyes moist. He said Vaughan decided to turn back – Leon asked him 3 times if he wanted Leon to stop as well. But he refused. This is an individual race, and sometimes decisions have to be taken. I know, I’ve been there. Leon then went quite.
|Near the top of the escarpment|
I tried to get him focussed on something else, explaining the route that we’re going to follow. The cliff that we needed to skirt around, the herder shelters and skaap kraal. Even pointing out the blue container on top of the escarpment. This seemed to have the necessary effect, but he and Worried Gazza were hell-bent on getting to the top as fast as possible. It was raining/sleeting with the wind picking up the higher we went. The two only slowed down a bit when I explained to them that I have done Lehanas at night and know the route quite well.
The wind blew Leon over a few times, and when we got to the final push over the top, we were on all fours with our bikes on our backs, fighting the ferocious icy wind. It was cold, getting dark and the wind was battering us to pulp. Leon told us previously that we had to share a small bottle of Blue Label when we got to the top, but the wind blew that to an afterthought.
I think the two previous days took its toll on the now 2 blind mice. Tenahead Lodge is a very posh, very warm establishment. It was about 7pm, so we decided we’ll pop in for a quick bite and then tackle the road to Rhodes. It only took the moment of waiting for the toasted sandwiches, standing in front of the fire, to make our minds up on staying over at the unscheduled stop. Many a rider has fallen into this trap. We ended up having a 5 coarse meal and a bottle of red wine to celebrate climbing Lehanas!
To top it off we were the guests of honour for the many guests of the lodge. It was a bit of a late night entertaining all the people.