Boet Werrie June 15 Day5: Malekholonyane to Rhodes…?

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.
Vuvu Valley

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.

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