Friday, January 16, 2009

A few days later

It's now a couple days post the ride and I must admit to feeling tired. More I think from the anticlimax of not having a daily goal. When we finished, I wondered how I was ever going to get back into the work routine.

What is apparent is this ride is what I term "soul riding". There was no rush so there was time to absorb my surroundings and get in touch with why I ride. I felt my insignificance on this timeless planet when I contemplated the grandeur and expanse of the land around me, and I fed my soul with the beauty and the experience of it all.

Too philosophical for you? - no matter. The experience was overwhelmingly positive and something I will never forget.

So now, I feel I can take on 2009!

I have uploaded photos to all the posts which really help add to the story of the journey. The route data and hopefully google earth links will come this week.

Some random thoughts....

Thanks to Leon Evans (of Cape Epic fame) for his assistance on the first four days. It was through his routes that we made our way from Plett to Prince Albert.

The rest of the routes were courtesy of The Freedom Trail. I am in awe of the planning that went into creating the links between remote spots, the detailed maps and narrative and the very comfortable accommodation at the end of each stage. If you ever get a chance, tour some of these sections. They are very special. Go to for more information on touring or racing the trail. It was quite strange to open the Visitor's Book at the Oestervanger Cottages and see an entry by Dave, Rob and Ian Waddilove in July 2004 as they traversed the route in the early days of its formation.

The time of year was too hot but we managed. If ever I thought I couldn't handle the heat, this proved me wrong but it was not ideal. We put the tour together in about 3 weeks which was only possible with an existing trail route. We plan to do another version next year but with more planning. We self catered where possible and this was where the back-up vehicle was so vital. The VW Transporter had a fridge which allowed us more flexibility in how and where we ate. It was also the great provider of a contstant flow of ice and cold water/drinks.

I rode a Santa Cruz Blur with Sram rear derailleur, cassette and chain - no problems. But we were religious in cleaning the drive chain daily. My saddle was a Selle Italia transam XO held together with some green duct tape.

I used:
  • Factor 50+ sun lotion but still have the horrendous cycling tan
  • Helmet with peak - essential for extra shade
  • Blue Steel chamois cream but I prefer the bog standard milking cream.
  • Anatomic UV sleeves - priceless
  • Perpetuem (Hammer Nutrition) but changed to USN Carbo Load
  • A variety of Jungle Bars
  • Bactroban Antibiotic ointment every night to prevent infections
  • Anithaine anesthetic cream for numbing the chafe
  • Animal Pack vitamins - difficult to measure but I reckon they helped in a big way
  • USN Muscle Fuel as a pre-ride or post ride recovery drink
  • Lots of mosquito repellent
  • Re-hidrate sachets primarily in the first half of the tour

The cost of the trip is still to be worked out. Fuel was probably the biggest single item. Accommodation ranged from R150 pp to R250. Food was drawn from a central kitty with the odd meal out and I think we each contributed about R700 for the duration. For the 11 days, this will work out to be a pretty cost effective tour.

Where to from here? Not sure as my next major event is the Ride 2 Rhodes - the first 6 days of the Freedom Challenge race in June. Inbetween? Well, I think I need to do some racing to do some intense riding but am not excited about anything yet. Will have to study the calendar for something different.

This was a superb experience perhaps made better by the speed at which we made the decision and did it. No time to dwell on what ifs. Thanks to Malcolm and Billy - my riding partners and especially to Eddie and Vanessa - a couple in their late 70's who are not afraid to step out the box and be adventurous with us.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

959kms, leather butts and nut brown legs

We're here - sea to sea, plett to cape down, niggle by niggle, laugh by laugh. Its just a little weird. Just a few hours ago, we were wrestling our way into Blouberg into a typical Cape South Easter. Now I am sitting on a comfy couch (my butt loves me) in Hout Bay trying to get my head around a journey of 959km.

However, reflections are for a later post. Let's get through today which was longer than we expected for a variety reasons. As I said, the accommodation at the top of Bains kloof was horrendous. I opted to keep Vanessa company while the others went for a "quick" drink at the Bain's Kloof Lodge. Many, many hours later they rolled in and I should have gone too. I had lain for those hours feeling every possible bed bug, mite and any other unsavoury thingy biting me. Eventually, I lay on top of the bed with a long sleeve shirt and my towel for a blanket. When Malcolm returned, we layered ourselves in kick arse insect repellent. But mostly, I lay awake cursing the fact that we hadn't just upped and got better accommodation when we arrived. Poor Eddie and Vanessa - they were also desperately uncomfortable.

So despite a very late and disturbed night, we were all more than ready to leave at 7.30. Urgh - horrible, horrible.

But, it was the last day and apparently 89km to look forward to. Soon after beginning the descent from the top of Bain's Kloof, we peeled off onto a short 4x4 track which plunged into the valley ending in a stunning wine farm. We headed on a round about route to Wellington to avoid traffic and eventually turned off the tar to ride along the course of the well-known Berg River (one of the long distance river canoe marathons). Our route narrative told us one name for this road but the sign clearly said another.

Luckily (and boy, have we been lucky with help from locals), a famer's wife came along and assured us it was the same road. Off we set for a 5 km stretch. We came across two farmers chatting in their bakkie on the side of the road and we double checked our destination - Ongegund Farm.

Yes, they said. Another 5km. Were we going to have tea with Farmer Visser as we would need protection. ?? Turns out Farmer Visser loves a chat. But they added: "Pretty girls like you can also come and have tea with us rather" (All of this in afrikaans) Excusing ourselves, laughing helplessly, we rode off to find their instructions were spot on.

We avoided Farmer Visser and headed south west of the Perdeberg on our journey. Along the way, we passed the estate of David Frost, the golfer.

By now, our distances were about 10km out so we really were not sure how long this day would be. A coke stop was needed and when we came across the only store on the whole journey, they had no coke!

Now, we were far from the big mountains but at about 48km on a jolting corrugated dirt road, we suddenly could see Table Mountain, and yet we still had by our calculations another 45km to go. It was pretty exciting to see this world famous landmark and our ultimate destination.

More tar, more dirt and finally we could see the sea and some shiny buildings which seemed to say "Over here, over here!"

But, there is always a sting in the tail. Heading across some farm land, we got lost. Back and forth over a 800m stretch before climbing a beeg hill to finally ask some vineyard workers where we were. The temperature had climbed and we hadn't seen a shop since the last time. Malcolm's tire was starting to play up again and enthusiasm was low.

Eventually, we picked up on a tar road which would take us to a major highway and we would be back on track. Riding through a beautiful gum tree plantation gave a little shade but it was also a shady part of the area. Malcolm finally decided to change tubes so he and I pulled over and unfortunately, Billy and Nikki rode off. Unfortunately as they were local Capetonians and knew the area and also, we would not finish as a group which disappointed me after all we had ridden.

Our luck was still in as 50m further on was a quad bike track with a clubhouse. I left Malcolm on the side of the road and went to buy water and coke. I stuffed by jersey pockets with liquids and got back to him where I was surprised to see a police van.

The kind cop had stopped to look after us as apparently this was a big prostitute pick up area and there had been a spate of robberies of potential "clients". He waited until we had finished before driving off. Thank you very much for that who ever you are.

We were able to piece our route together again from the race narrative and were soon back on track. However, as we turned for Blouberg Strand (about 20km from home), we turned into a monstrous head wind.

Hell, it made the last kms hard but we were on a mission to get to the pizzas and beers and our friends and family who were waiting for us. Finally we rolled down to the beach front 107km later.

Locals sitting at the outdoor pub must have wondered at our excitement at finishing but then, how were they to know where we had started and how long it had been. A couple of beers and pizzas later we headed off in different directions to contemplate on what had been.

I will add more to this blog as I remember details and of course, I am desperate to add the pictures.

I have to end by recounting an anecdote I had quite forgotten when we left Rouxpos. That was zombie day - the one after my two rides in one day and Malcolm having been sleepless since Plett. You go by routine on day's like this and none of us were any exception. Every morning, Malcolm goes to the back of the van, lubes his chain, does the sun tan lotion and the chamois cream. On this day, he used the chamois cream as sun tan lotion on his arms and legs - he smelt quite nice and his skin was soft, but I think he got burnt.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A day to enjoy

Picture this scene last night...for some unknown reason, Billy decided he had to swop his rims for the ones he had bought from Malcolm. The two of them fiddled and grunted and eventually got the slime in and started pumping the tire. BANG! It explodes off the wheel covering them in grey snot...twice! I believe they went back to square one and stayed with the original rims. Messy, very messy. Nikki, who caught some of the grey fallout, was doubled over in hysterics at these antics. As it turns out, today would be a day for tire problems

At 5 this morning, there were big banks of clouds piling up over to the west and the wind was fresh and mercifully, cool. The weather gods were back and smiling on us.

The 5.30am departure time came and went and two very bleary eyed riders staggered around somewhat haphazardly. Turns out that Nikki had given them sleeping tablets - go figure. Eventually, we got on the road at 6 and headed out from Oestervanger towards Die Fontein farm - a farmer who clearly supports the Freedom Trail effort.

We rode past his sheds and there was a little red cycling sign pointing the way up the powerlines. These powerlines have featured much over the past two days. A very technical jeep track climbed steeply up the ridge - just what I love. Give me rocky stony climbs any day over long gravel roads. About 500m into the climb, Billy got a puncture and while he fixed it, we were content to gaze at the view in the much cooler weather.

What amazed me was that in the space of one valley, the vegetation could change so much. The bush was much thicker, more colourful and there were lots of proteas and grasses and succulents.

Puncture sorted and on we went - most of this section was rideable but still challenging. We followed the powerlines up the ridge until we were at the crest and found the narrow track cut by the Cape Epic organisers for a stage in a recent race. It was here that Nikki had a moment of deja vue and realised that she had indeed ridden this stage.

Down we rode to some ploughed fields and there was a little sense of humour failure from Billy who claimed he would rather walk his dog that push his bike. None of us shared his viewpoint as we were all exhilarated at the change in route and the challenge it posed to our technical skills.

We picked up a farm road that wound through harvested wheat fields that were pale gold in the early sun and we saw many pairs of blue cranes providing a contrast in colour. Malcolm was battling with his tire now which was steadily deflating. He stopped to pump it before a small climb and I rode to the top to wait for him. Billy and Nikki had ridden off the front and that was the last we saw of them for the day.

At the crest of McKays Kop, the view was breathtaking with these enormous mountains surrounding us and green vineyards stretching across the valleys. The Cape at its most beautiful. After we had stopped for the third time to pump the tire, we opted to pull in at Stettynskloof Wine Cellar and work out exactly what was wrong. The receptionist kindly made us coffee and rooibos tea while we spread bike parts on the lawn. Eventually, we found a tiny cut in the sidewall right up on the rim which had probably worsened over the days of riding. Luckily Malcolm's sealant was green and we washed the tire out using the sprinkler and enhanced the lawn colour.

We phoned Eddie to let him know we were delayed and eventually, we were on our way again with a fantastic tailwind. We left the main tar road after 6km and rode on a wonderful dirt road at the base of the mountain range (I really need to find out which they are). This road led to Brandvlei Prison into which we rode somewhat to the bemusement of the inmates and wardens. When the lady warden at the gate could not summon a smile at Malcolm's request for a massage, we realised the a lack of humour was a pre-requisite for being hired.

It was tar from here to Rawsonville and we were clocking 35km hour with the wind. Awesome.

We arrived at Goudini Cellars when Eddie and Vanessa were waiting with the best ham and cheese rolls in the whole world. Sheesh, the lady knows how to hit the spot. We had a tea/coffee at the coffee shop (no wine although Vanessa bought a few bottles) and after a short snooze, we headed off again. This section had been about 71km and very little climbing. Our calculations showed it would be another 50km to the top of Bains Kloof.

As Billy and Nikki had once again left before us, they had to do the tar option. Pity as we saw the most beautiful homesteads and farms in the valleys we traversed as we took the dirt less traveled.

I must say, both of us were feeling really good and we were so enjoying the moment. We realised the tomorrow's ride may be more tar to get to Cape Town so every opportunity to enjoy the mountain biking aspects were grabbed.

We rode through Skilpadfontein Farm and popped out on tar in a real jewel of a valley - backed right up against the mountains and healthy vineyards stretching for kilometers. A quick dunk of the helmet and sleeves in the Breede River where some local kids were swimming and we were off to the base of Bains Kloof.

Neither of us had any idea what to expect and as we turned left to begin the pass, we were assaulted by the thus far tail wind. But...
Within a kay, it was pushing us from behind and we were riding up the tar at 22km per hour. Never would I have expected that but maybe we were also somewhat fitter now, just maybe. For 7 kms we flew up absolutely loving it. Then the road steepened slightly and the river dropped deeper and deeper into the ravine. Only large boulders were between us and the sheer drop into the vallye. Our speed then slowed for a bit. I stopped for some photos and to rest the usual rear end. Eventually, I could see where the pass flattened out and there was Malcolm waiting in the shade by a little stream. I clambered down, dunked, head and sleeves in and just marveled at the joy of riding fast up a hill.

And then we were at the top.

I don't know how long we took but we thoroughly enjoyed every moment of the ascent and all the experiences of this long day - over 6 hours of riding. The distance was about 116km in the end with most of the climbing at the beginning and the end. As Malcolm said as we reached the settlement called Eerste Tol at the summit "Road riding is piss easy"!

We pulled in at the trading post for an end of ride drink and found our way to our accommodation. Oh dear, bring back Calitzdorp Spa. This is an 80 year old shack and it look and feels it. Disappointing after an exhilarating day.

But, tomorrow is the end of a wonderful trip with many, many unbelievable experiences. I am looking forward to seeing the sea but it will be sad to end such an adventure.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Feast and Famine...for the eyes

Dinner was at a local restaurant, not to be recommended. But Nikki, a friend of Billy's arrived via the bus, to join us for the last three days. It was great having a new face and a female at that. However, Malcolm fed them many tequila's (I saw this coming and left) so it was a rude introduction to the tour.

A poor decision was to leave at 8am as Billy - possibly misguided by his wine and tequila - suggested we were out of the Karoo. Bad move. It was to be another sweltering day of 32 degrees average and a high of 44 degrees again.

But, leaving Montagu was spectacular with the rock formations and the tunnel through which the road had been constructed. I missed that photo opportunity. We rode through a town called Ashton and then began the feast for the eyes.

Green is such a soothing colour and the green vineyards, green fruit trees laden with peaches, plums and pears and even quinces were a joy to ride past. We spent quite a lot of time on tar getting through this area and we saw many well known wine estates such as Van Loveren and Zandvliet. The roads were lined with bright red and yellow cannas and there was an abundance of trees.

We crossed the Breede River over the old red iron bridge and a short while later turned onto the dirt road to wind our way to MacGregor.

After the earlier days of this tour, any climbing now was relatively insignificant but Malcolm and I always took time to stretch. It was our way of "smelling the roses".

This paid off brilliantly at the base of a small climb when a tractor towing trolleys of ripe yellow cling peaches trundled past and the driver kindly gave us two to power us up the hill. Mmmm. Fresh fruit, straight off the tree and the export quality.

However, this was where the famine for the eyes began - back to the dryness of the Karoo we knew so well from the past couple of days.

Up over the hill, past fields of onions and we could see the hamlet of MacGregor at the bottom of the valley. One slight deviation to photograph a beautiful puff adder crossing the road. Weirtd to think this was our first sighting of a snake of any description on the trip.

We rode up the main road and saw the VW parked outside a coffee shop called Villagers. Billy and Nikki had already arrived and Eddie and Vanessa were looking relaxed. But, man was it hot at that point.

I had really been feeling the heat today even though it was a 51km (about 2,5 hours) ride to this point. The leaving late from Montagu meant that many extra minutes in the hotter sun. Even the bacon, olive paste and tomato sandwhich couldn't give me the vooma I needed. I can recommend the homemade plum juice here though.

But, we couldn't stay there forever and it was a "mere" 24km to our overnight stop at the Oestervanger self catering cottages. It was now going on midday but we would have more tricky navigation over the mountains so it would take a while longer.

Leaaving MacGregor, I was really flat and I couldn't believe the others had ridden past a perfect dam for swimming in. But somehow, on a shortish pass, I got my second wind and felt sooo much better for the rest of the day.

Our turn off point on this road was at some revolting thatch houses a la Jo'burg secure complexes. The architect should be shot - there is so much character in the Cape architecture and these were just plain ugly.

So now we were off the main dirt road and heading into the bundu. The Freedom Trail leads into a farm called Coenies Rivier and we worked our way through the labourers houses and smiling kids to hit some sweet jeep track. My absolute favourite kind of climbing, in fact, favourite all time riding! The powerlines sweeping across the hills were our guidelines and we worked our way steadily towards them with some beautiful, strange succulents along the way.

An incredibly rough and steep wagon trail took us down the mountain and at one point, we stopped to plot our route and we looked into a really bare valley with dirt roads criss crossing seeming to go nowhere. However, our road was plain thanks to a new house that had been built and we bundu bashed our way across. One more koppie to go around and we were looking at our overnight stop - three little renovated cottages across the valley. We stopped at a farm house to check our directions and were given ice cold water by one of the labourers preparing apricots for drying.

Then, we collected some peaches as big as tennis balls (no, bigger) for the team and as we approached the cottages, Eddie and Vanessa pulled in. I stuffed a ham, Camembert cheese, gherkin, mayo roll down my throat and instantly felt better.

But it is bliksems hot. There is a wind but it is stifling. It is now 6pm and it is finally starting to cool off. I think the ride was about 72km with about 500m of ascent - my gps is too far to get right now. I will post all the ride stats at the end once the info has been uploaded.

So we are braaing tonight....again. Too South African to mind that. Malcolm poured Nikki and I a surprise drink. Holy Smokes. We called it a Karoo Dust Devil and the legs were instantly rubbery. That's one way to relax after a hot day.

Tomorrow is the big push to Bainskloof Pass - about 129km. An early start has to be on the cards, else we will cook again. So it is about 200km to the sea and I can't believe it is coming to an end.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Finally, we are in Montagu

We left Anysberg at 6 and once again, the Karoo is beautiful at the extremes of the day. The road was much more enjoyable for purist mountain bikers with rougher tracks, rocky river beds and narly twists and turns.

We had thoroughly coached Eddie on the directions for this day as we would turn off the Reserve road after 19kms and meet him at the intersection with the Touws River and Ladismith roads.

We turned into a WWF property which adjoined the Anysberg Reserve. The road was flat and fast and we saw springbok, jackal and ostriches. We were surprised by the extent of the reserve which Malcolm calculated to be about 48km in length (the amount we had ridden through). This was not technical but we cruised at 25km plus along here, well on schedule to meet Eddie after two hours and 40km of riding.

At one point, we stopped to stretch cos this had gone out the window the last couple of days, and we could feel the tightness in the various muscles. What a place to contort oneself while looking out over the vastness of the Karoo. The mountains were further away and there was just a huge plain in front of us.

Eventually, we came out at a farm called Hoek van die Berg (very appropriate as it nestled in the lee of a large mountain) and we hit the main public dirt road. Anxiously, we scanned the dirt for the VW tire tracks and literally, 1km before the meeting spot, Eddie and Vannessa came roaring past us. Cold water, some ice to top up and we were on our way. Again, I forgot my camera in the vehicle here and was bummed because there was some awesome shots ahead.

We were a little concerned cos the car's GPS said 53km to Montagu while we had calculated 37km - happily, we were right.

There was a gradual climb to the top of Ouberg Pass but man, what a reward for so little work. The pass dropped away for about a multi km descent (dunno how far exactly - too much fun and spitting out the stones from Malcolm's tires).

Then we followed the Langkloof spruit which meant a constant downhill almost all the way into Montagu. Malcolm tried jumping the river everytime we crossed it (about 10 times) and I was too close to him and got right royally showered by river water. Kids all over again and loving it.

We started to come across more and more fruit orchards and olive groves but sight of the town eluded us. It was tucked behind one of the mountains. This was my first visit to the town and the huge mountains do close in around it - no more wide open spaces here.

Billy had ridden away from us after the water stop and headed straight for the B&B. We elected to stop at a outdoor cafe as we entered the town and sat under the trees and relaxing after a surpisingly easy ride. We chatted to a local lady who told us about the floods a couple of months ago which mean't we couldn't go to the Springs and then we feasted on bacon/egg on the best croissant I have had in a long time.

Eventually, we sauntered down the road slight bemused by the traffic which is little by any standards unless you have been wandering around the Karoo.

We pulled in at Koo Karoo and Shirley kindly did some washing for us. A sleep for a bit and we back on track and online. It's pretty hot here but very picturesque. We're out for dinner tonight - someone else can do the cooking.

Our ride was 71km with 552m of ascent and 3.23 hours - magic!

Rouxpos to Anysberg - somewhere in the Karoo

We had arrived late in the evening and I was dead tired. If I had felt bad last night, I was a walking zombie the next morning. I woke at 5.30 remembering I hadn't charged the GPS, hadn't washed my bike and recovery drinks...what are they.

Thanks goodness for a late start as I was having difficulty in getting going. The routine of the last couple of days paid off and I managed to get it all together. Malcolm was also feeling really tired so the two of us made a sorry pair. Billy left early to do his own route and we would only see him at Anysberg - a Cape Nature reserve.

We said goodbye to Ronel and Gerhard at about 8.30. The day was to be a 77km ride. Eddie and Vanessa were heading to Laingsberg to top up on supplies as we would be self catering at Anysberg.

We left the little jewel of a valley tucked against the tail end of the Swartberg. Gerhard farms fruit and seeds for carrots and onions. With only an average of 170mm of rain per annum, it is ideal for these crops as there is no risk of fungus infections. They get their water from the mountains and it is sweet and pure. Ronel travels to Laingsburg to teach maths in the week and they were very generous hosts.

The Freedom Challenge route turns off the main road to Laingsburg and heads through a farm called Wagendrift. This was the first bit of navigation required as per this route and part of the tour.

Behind the farm, we found a jeep track which headed into a pretty desolate valley. It was starting to get hot but the breezes that had kept us cool were still floating there. Gerhard had said that it was set to reach 30 degrees so that was relatively cool. In my zombie state, I had left my camera in the car so there are no route pics although I have this image in my head of a mouse in a tree eating the mimosa blossom. Much of this ride was in a dry river bed, the type prone to flash floods but we were pretty certain this wasn't about to happen but it was tough going in places. Lekker to do a bit of real off road riding though.

13km later we emerged at a pretty farmhouse where we sat under a gum tree and studied the map. Moral : it is good to be kind to yourself. We decided to take the direct route to Anysberg which would cut out 15km and would in all probability be easier riding. It was a good decision for two tired bodies and we entered the reserve feeling more upbeat than a couple of hours earlier.

On our left was the range of mountains, harsh with great rents and gouges out the rocks. In fact, there were mountains all around this reserve. Finally, after a herd of gemsbok, we could see a grove of trees and our mileage told us we were there.

Having wandered around the office for a while, we spotted a totally unexpected and unique swimming pool. High above the ground was a pool deck with loungers and a reservoir filled with clear mountain water.

No question. Dumped the bikes and plunged in. Cold and life giving. We had ridden about 69km, got in at about 12 and relaxed at the cute, newly renovated cottages. There was no sign of Eddie and Vanessa but we expected them to get there after us. So, we did the next best thing - slept. Eventually, I was woken by the foreman who had come to check on us. Oops, it was already 3pm and no vehicle and no cell reception. The guy kindly took me to the office to try and phone - no answer. Now we were a little worried. Could they have gotten lost - almost impossible. Could something have happened - nah. So there we sat, scanning the horizon for a white delivery van.

The foreman came back at about 4pm to tell us they were on their way and sure enough, a short while later, a very harrassed and stressed Eddie and Vanessa pulled in. Lost they got, overshooting the turnoff by 70km, then heading back to Laingsburg to the police station to get directions and then coming all the way back. When we had calmed them down, we all got settled into the usual routine. We were braaing and soon the coals were glowing, the meat was on the fire and the beautiful soft tones of the setting sun in the Karoo gave a fitting end to this day.

Several Captains and Coke later, everyone was mellow and headed for bed - in the middle of nowhere.

aish - so much to remember

Well, we're in Montagu and I need to get down four days of riding. It really is an overload of the senses - what we seen and ridden through.

So I'll do it day by day.

Some of us met at Johann's house at 7pm. What an interesting place. It is made of hale bales and plastered with clay. The roof of the stoep is made from dried leaves of local plants and it is pretty eco friendly.

From there we headed off to Dennehof guest house for a pasta dinner before setting off on our adventure. On the way,I captured the moon over the Karoo ready for us to ride.

We had a brilliant meal, funnily enough, the first pasta meal of the trip and whilst sitting there, the temperature started to drop and the wind was picking up. Malcolm saved me by bringing my jacket as it was to be bitterly cold on top. (OK, so bitterly may be relative, but it was boneshaking cold!).

Di and Steve's kids (growing guys of 15 and 17) had packed two loaves of banana bread to sustain them and David Waddilove packed all the remaining pasta into a tupperware for his en route energy.

We couldn't postpone the inevitable and I guess, about 10pm, we left. There were clouds scudding across the moonlit sky and only the brightest of stars could be seen. We hit the dirt road and soon split up all over the pass up to the top of the Swartberg. I wish I could have captured the surreal nature of the ride.

Sometimes, it looked like a car was coming as the cliffs were bathed in moonlight. Every now and then, we rode into the shadows only to emerge into what felt like daylight. I rode without lights the whole way and when I caught up to Johann, I was amazed to know we were only about 2km from the top. We stopped out the wind and man, was I glad to have my jacket. From the top, we could see the lights of Beaufort West - 180km away!

Steve Porter had wowed everyone with his single speed ascent beating everyone to the top - must be those calves of yours. Then he and I set off into Die Hel. It was harder than I thought. It wasn't a straight descent but rather long undulations where I put my light on for the descents to get a little extra speed! However, as these things are prone to do, it kept coming loose and all of a sudden my pedals would be lit up - a bit disconcerting when you are bouncing around on corrugations and trying to read the lines in front of you.

We stopped to try and make a plan and Marius and Audrey arrived. Together we rode to what is known as Heart Break hill (after little heart brake hill). Eeek, it goes on forever and even in the moonlight, you can see it is a mother of a hill. the end of it are the infamous switchbacks into Die Hel. The four of us descended hugging the inside line as there was just a black cavernous hole off the edge. I would really like to see those in the daylight but I was also glad not to be returning up them. Eventually, we arrived into the valley itself - finally, I was into the place of legends.

The road we have come in on was only built in 1962 whereupon all the inhabitants left the valley bar a few hardy souls. The historic homes have been restored and can be rented. The came the issue of finding the Block House at night and with vague directions. Steve left us to go to his cottage where his family had been staying for a day and we headed off. Surprisingly, it was still cold.

We rode on, and on, and then we rode some more. We past the school which we remembered being mentioned, and then we rode some more. With no idea really of what we were looking for, we thought best bet was to ride to the river. Well, as always with these things, we turned around about 800m before the accommodation, which in typical Waddilove fashion, was not the Block House but the BosKamp. All Ride2Rhodes and Freedom Challengers know these Waddilovisms.

Eventually, we returned to the Kiosk which had a little restaurant with COUCHES! So, through the window we climbed and made ourselves comfy to wait for the others. Di and Ricky arrived next and we all slept until the sun came up. We had arrived just before 4 am and the rest arrived at about 6ish having slept, picnicked and heaven knows what else along the way. I'll take the couches over the space blanket anytime, Johann.

So we headed back down the trail to the infamous Boskamp which Audrey and I managed to miss for a second time but I got some great pics of the lightening of the valley and saw a very wide and flowing river. Apparently, the dam had just been opened and water was being released.

Back to the Boskamp for a hot shower, skottel breakfast of bacon and eggs and a well earned sleep. Johann's wife, Monica, had lugged all the provisions, clothes and whatnot into the valley for us. My sheet, however, suddenly looked very thin for the cold morning air and I was grateful to borrow a fleece from David and a sleeping bag from one of the little Rissiks.

I reckon it was about 2,5 hours of sleep before it got too hot. Then most of us surfaced and enjoyed the peace of the area. For me though, the thought of the climb out lurked like a faintly remembered nightmare. I had packed a packet with some bars, energy powder, shorts and slops. I borrowed the rest (soap, shampoo, t-shirt) from the others and washed my kit after showering which was bone dry in a couple of hours. So I managed to do this deviation with just my camelback.

I crammed down a couple of peanut butter and syrup sandwhiches along with the animal pack vitamins, a few good swigs of game and David and I were ready to set off. I am sure he regretted his generous offer to see me to the top of the ladder, but like a true gentlemen, he put a brave face on it.

We left at about 1.30pm and rode to the river. It was mid-thigh deep when we waded across. A quick stop at the visitors center and an Energade and off we went, winding through shady tracks under the thorn trees. I was amazed at the pretty farms at the end of Die Hel fed by a little stream. The came The Neck - a definite get off the bike and push but from the top, I could see the length of valley back to the switchbacks where we entered.

And as the Freedom Challenge race narrative says, behind the poplar trees lies the ladder. A quick dunking of head and helmet in the river and we set off - onwards and upwards. Well, the gentlemanly breed continues as David carried my bike all the way to the top. Thank you for that. It is truly a ladder - just like a Drakensberg Pass with loose rocks and stones and big boulders to get up. We rose about the valley and could see the entire length of Die Hel. The Ladder was the orgininal donkey track that the inhabitants used to get out to trade with Ladismith and Calitzdorp. Just like the donkey tracks in the Berg.

An hour later, we were at the top. Wow. If you get a chance to ride through Die Hel end to end, do it. After some quick instructions on what to do if the farmer found me, and a chunk of fruitcake, I said goodbye to David and headed off on some wicked jeep track to join the others.

I really enjoyed this section as it was the first bit of technical riding I had done on the tour. It was about 10kms and eventually, I hit the main dirt road and freewheeled to the VW and the rest of the team. The boys had given Seweweekspoorts pass a hiding and shot to the top but luckily were only there 15' before me so out timing was sweet.

Some serious hardpack dirt roads and fast, fast downhills sent us on our way to Rouxpos - the farm of Gerhard and Ronel. Also one of the stop overs on the Freedom Challenge. The wind had picked up and swirled around sometimes from behind and then in front. By the time we were onto the final 10km stretch, I was feeling the efforts of the last 18 hours. Malcolm rode with me and he reached 76kmk/hour on the one descent with a headwind!

As the final ascent before the farm loomed and my heart sank, there came my angel Eddie in the white VW to fetch me. I didn't hesitate, loaded up my bike and fell into the comfy seat. Malcolm headed off and pedalled so hard, he went 4km past the farm. So off Eddie went to fetch him too.

It was now about 8pm and Ronel had prepared a stunning farm meal of bobotie, veges, salad, farm peaches and ice cream and chocolate sauce. Eventually, I excused myself after agreeing with others on a late start of 8am. Awesome. That bed was fantastic and it was the end of another two one day.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Prince Albert - Part Two

A good night's rest does wonders for the psyche and we all enjoyed the lie in at Volstruisvlei. Breakfast was at the Lazy Lizard and everyone dug into bacon, eggs, toast, juice, coffee - the works. It started off cooler than previous days and we enjoyed the respite.

My legs certainly felt a whole lot better having had a massage and this evening will be the big test with the climb back up the Swartberg Pass.

The group is splitting at this point and the boys will drive back to Oudtshoorn to Calitzdorp and then ride from there up the Seweweekspoort. We'll meet at the top under the big tree. Clearly, there aren't many big trees here as the locals are convinced we won 't miss each other.

I, on the other hand, set off tonight on the big moonlight adventure. David Waddilove - the founder of the Freedom Challenge - joins us along with Steve and Di Thomas of Daytrippers, and ex-south african couple now living in Aus (Marius and Audrey), Steve Porter - another single speed freak, families and friends and all led by the indomitable Johann Rissik.

We meet at Dennehof hotel for pasta and around about 9pm, we head off up the mountain. I can't wait! The big benefit of riding at night is the hills don't loom that large and I hope to find the climb less intimidating. The group spirit is one of adventure and cameraderie so I am sure we will egg each other on. Already, there is discussion about handicap systems, points systems and all sorts of ideas to level the palying fields.

Two vehicles will go ahead into Die Hel and they have the skottel and all the paraphernalia to make sure we have a sumptious breakfast when we arrive in the valley. Steve Porter has already spent two nights there and says it is hugely hot! So what's new in this area.

At about 2pm on the arvy, David and Johann have offered to ride with me to Die Leer and walk up (maybe they'll carry my bike for me???) until the jeep track. Then I head off to meet up with others at 5pm under the tree - about 25km. Then we ride another 55km to Rouxpos to stay at the farmhouse of Gerhard and Ronel.

Unfortunately, there is no cell reception until Montagu so this blog will "pause" until then. I hope to have lots to tell you about the next three days.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

more pics - day four

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Ups and Downs

How I found my quads at 60km, lost my mojo and Prince Albert (Part One).

The usual start of 5.30 was hard but the sooner we left the Spa, the better. It was overcast (thank you, thank you) and we rolled off on a 22km tar/concrete road into Calitzdorp. An hour later we pulled into this green oasis of grapes and fruit and a neat, quaint little town. We stopped at Rosies (Rose of the Karoo) to check on directions to Calitzdorp Dam and Billy suggested coffee as they were open. Well, coffee led to bacon and egg toasted sammies amongst the garden gnomes. What a treat to have a cooked savoury start to the day. Eddie and Vannessa pulled in a little later for more of the same. However, the conversation was mumbled and the humour turgid. Yesterday still had its claws in us.

Then we set off along the river with the huge Swartberg mountains on our left - large and ominous. Every uphill (small or large) burnt! My quads were useless and my butt was worse. Many kilometers of comtemplating this phenomenon led me to conclude that weak/tired legs don't support the body so the butt sits heavily on the saddle - sound good?? Billy disappeared into the distance putting in miles into Malcolm and I.

But as Malcolm said when he waited for me for the nth time, "Just riding along without saying anything is companionship" and so it was. We shared some beautiful views and around each corner was a surprise in Cape architecture. I think this should be called the Route de Klein Huise.

Beautiful restored houses were tucked next to the road or on the river. Some were guest houses and others seemed to be privately owned - holiday homes? It was a really interesting ride despite physical discomfort. Eventually at the 51km mark at a gorgeous farm at De Kruis, I turfed the Re-hidrate and filled a bottle with carb mix. I hate it when I make amateur 60km my quads were feeling a whole lot better but overall, it was to be too late.

Did I mention Malcolm's dice with a local kid on his rattle trap mountain bike? The two of them took each other on down the hill and up a fairly long climb. Last I saw was the lightie racing back down the hill with a big grin on his face. M is not admitting who won.

We rode past the huge Swartberg Private Reserve - it went on and on and had some pristine views of the mountains. All of this made the middle 40km go by with plenty to distract. Eddie and Vanessa had raced on to the 76km mark to meet with Billy before he began the Swartberg Pass. By the time I got there, I had decided to call it a day. Malcolm - brave one - packed his camelback and set off.

It is truly a formidable climb and I knew that I would have walked plenty taking forever to ascent. It is not a climb for the fainthearted or weak or unfit. I was blown away by the old fashioned techniques used by Thomas Baine and how they were still holding out a hundred years later. But there was more to admire.

At the top, we found Billy again who decided to wait for Malcolm. There was a challenging switchback immediately after the top and the road disappears over the crest of the next fold of the mountains. This is where I lost my mojo and still haven't found it. If I had known what lay beyond, I would have been on my bike in a moment. The descent and unbelievable switchbacks that had been carved into the mountain were to die for. I love descending fast and I was nearly in tears at what I was missing.

To make matters worse, we would be ascending this on our moonlight run into Die Hel. Are you weeping a tear for me yet??

Prince Albert is a delight although damn hot as well. We arrived at our accommodation of Volstruisvlei and what a pleasure to arrive to a well appointed house, comfortable beds and enough bathrooms and AIR CON.

On the advice of Johann Rissik (more on him in a mo), I had set up a massage with Erica in town and boy, was it worth it. I was surprised at how sore my legs were but coming into a ride like this and the distances and passes we have covered, I realise that I was never going to ride myself fit. It was too big a leap. However, the upside is, that I will be super fit at the end of our journey!

I met Johann at Stellenbosch University - I think it was before the Rinderpest. I am not sure when I last saw him either. But we got in contact recently when I heard about his solo ride on a singlespeed from Sishen to Saldanha, and then of course, he has organised the Ride into Die Hel under the Full Moon.

So tomorrow, some like minded adventurous types will assemble to ride UP the Swartberg Pass from Prince Albert and head into Die Hel. They will return on Saturday night while we continue out the Gamkaskloof via Die Leer (The Ladder) and make our way to Cape Town.

Hey Johann, R.E.S.P.E.C.T on riding the pass on a singlespeed!

Tomorrow, part two of Prince Albert while we sleep in, explore and prepare for our night ride.