Monday, January 12, 2009
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.
But....at 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 rides....in one day.