Thursday, January 8, 2009

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.


  1. The ride sounds amazing. I am really impressed that you spend the time to post such detailed blogs, rather that chilling and catching up. Well done Fi.

  2. I am so wishing I could be riding with you guys... the pics are phenomenal!

    I would love to know all of the crap that you guys are talking, being out there for so long.

    Hope you continue to enjoy it.