Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How do you put a mtb trail together

Kevin Davie, inveterate sportsman and wearer of a blanket (Freedom Challenger Finisher), has the wanderlust again. Not content to just ride, he has explored the length of one of the most famous mountain ranges in the country on his mountain bike.  Read on and follow him on twitter (@spinerun).

What do you do when you’ve done the Freedom Challenge? If you have more racing in you and perhaps want to do a faster time, you go back and do it again. You may opt to ride as Mike and Glenn did, on a tandem, or if you are of purist bent, on a single-speed. You can opt, of course, to ride shorter sections on a social basis.

Steve Thomas, my riding partner in ‘07, suggested a reverse blanket, starting in Paarl and ending in Pietermaritzburg. We agreed, though, that time constraints would mean we should aim to do the ride in two weeks. He suggested starting at Ponta da Ora and riding to Pietermaritzburg. I began to explore riding the Drakensberg to connect with the FC.

I had already found from the RTR and FC how little I knew about the Drakensberg, about where it started and ended and how it had shaped the country. It is arguably our most dominant physical feature and most important resource in the sense that it is the source of most of our water, but I have found that South Africans, like me, are generally ignorant of the range even though it has a looming presence in our lives.

Putting together a trail is also a challenge. It has to traverse the most remote parts of the country while ideally having access to tourist resources such as B&Bs where you can wash, eat and sleep.

But this a fun challenge. Given that trail riding is one of my favourite things to do, there is little hardship in this. Soon a little group of us were spending three or five days at a time checking out the various possibilities for a trail from Haenertsburg to Matatiele, where the route would join the FC.

I also scouted old book shops to get books on the Drakensberg and old wagon and prospector routes. Where I could find mountain bikers with local knowledge I contacted them for advice. In particular Dennis Lawrie, Glenn Harrison and Tim James helped with ideas and advice.

Google Earth is, of course, also invaluable, but most important is the 1:50 000 map. I have made so many visits to the map shop in Jan Smuts Avenue that I think I should be given shares.

There were several false starts and some areas are tougher to crack than others, but by early this month I was ready to try and cycle the whole thing in one go. I could have hunted around for a cycling partner, but as a back-of-the-field rider, I did not think this a sustainable option. I also thought that riding solo would bring an additional element to the experience.

Haenertsberg is an old gold mining town, one of many stretching through Bourke’s Luck, Pilgrim’s Rest, Mac Mac, Kaapsehoop and Barberton. It is a good place to start.

Ten kilometres out of the village there is a lake which feeds the Mohlapitse and Letaba rivers. The former carves its way through the Drakensberg to the Orrie Baragwanath pass. This goes down to the magnificent Oliphants valley.

The area is rainfall challenged, has contrasting red earth, an abundance of rocks with impressive succulents and even the odd baobab tree. It is also very hot.

Ohrigstad, over 150 years old, is a good spot to re-stock and re-fuel. Crystal Springs is a private nature reserve with an abundance of game and accommodation with breath-taking views of dramatic gorges.

Heading south there is a choice of going through In Die Diepte, a ride I am yet to do, or staying on the escarpment and heading for the Hartebeesvlakte, a massive area of state-owned land which is completely underdeveloped and the home to herds of blesbok.

By now you are entering the forested areas of Mpumalanga. There are several choices of route heading down towards Sudwala, perhaps joining the Mankele bike trails along the way.

I took a short piece of tar to the N4 and then rode along the main rail line to Elandshoek and up to Kaapsehoop, one the country’s most charming villages. There is more natural forest and plantation, including crossing the Ndogwana river, to Badplaas, which is also a good place to recharge. I then followed the Umkomazane river to near Warburton.

This part of the route is relatively flat and dominated by forestry. You follow forestry tracks and dirt roads through New Scotland to Amsterdam. The Luneberg/Wakkerstroom area has some of the best mountain bike riding in the country, including riding in a natural crater and up the Phongola valley.

The Buffalo valley crossing was also a highlight to me. I will be doing more riding on the Free State section as I think there is still a better route than the two I have so far used.

From Swinburne the best route will be to drop into the Lost Valley to Geluksburg. The KwaZulu-Naal section of the Drakensberg is the most developed and so has the most tar roads, but with input from locals, the mountain biker can now ride this part of the route without being on any busy roads. There are tarred sections which I would think should remain as cars are few and far between and the scenery is both dramatic and spell -binding.

I am writing this in Underberg, on a two-day break. I had considered continuing the journey south via Lesotho but this appears to add too much time to the overall trip.

Rather, the local mountain bikers I have spoken to, have sketched out a route they use which in part follows the Bushman’s Nek road. This will join the Freedom trail about 50 or 60km from Matatiele. I could end my ride here but I will ride to Dordrecht as I’d like this trip to have taken in the Drakensberg from end to end.

I have taken some trouble in the preparatory trips to arrange permits and have actively sought out farmers to discuss access issues. No problems have arisen and neither do I expect them to.

If this part of the trail does formalise over time I would expect that a conversation would start with the major landowners such as the forestry companies to be able to arrange blanket permits for riders.

1300km done, 500km to go.


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Monday, September 21, 2009

MTB Old? I hope not.

I came across a post by a Saffer (Andrew Clayton) who did his first ever downhill mountain bike run.  You can read all about it here on Mountain Biking by 198.  He said about his experience: "You have to keep pushing the boundaries cause one day you will get 'MTB Old' and stop testing those boundaries."

It made me think.

Is that where I am.  Having done a wonderful 3 week jaunt across South Africa, have I become "old" in my mountain biking approach.  Certainly the riding or lack of it lately would seem so.  This lull I am in was highlighted by our ride on the weekend and the couple we rode with.

Dawn and Dave. They have a tough stage race coming up at the end of September and they have trained really hard.  We set out and at the first river crossing, Dawn fell into the water and Dave waded in to disentangle her. Well, we laughed, she laughed and I wished (not for the last time) that I had my camera.  The route was gorgeous single track and was pretty gnarly at times.

At a particular tricky "bridge" over a fence, Dawn fell off, hard.  There is always that moment of silence as you imagine the worst and then she picks herself up, laughs about it and on we go.  it wasn't the last time she fell but she charged down the rocky descents and huffed and puffed her way up this hills, pushing her limits all the time.

She wasn't MTB Old.  She was young and energetic and pushing boundaries, like I used to be. Out of practice on some of the tecnical stuff, I would hesitate and then berate myself for it.  I hate that I have no MTB mojo but I also understand the need to get some space from the intensity of the first six months of year.

But I can't wait to ride the section again, this time more familiar with the obstacles and ready to flow through it. 

When the time is right, I will be "MTB Kid" again.

Posted via email from Go Cycling

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

She just got it

For the last two months, I've had the company of a zesty 11 year old girl.  She lives overseas so hasn't been hauled around with us on our mountain biking escapades but in the last year, she took possession of someones hand-me-down and taught herself to ride.

Then she arrives here and we borrow another bike for her but more suited to her size.  This bike was patently a lot larger than the old one and she had to get over her initial fear of not being able to touch the ground with her feet all the time.  Then it was the lessons for getting on and off which we practiced in the street.

Having mastered this, not without a lot of anxiety, we decided to ride a little further on the flattest road I know.  Here again, she was completely intimidated by her perception of a mega downhill and it required a lot of coaxing and pushing to get her to crawl along, almost falling off from the slow pace.

Despite the tears, every time she got on the bike, she gained a little confidence. Then I took her to a stretch of dirt road with almost no traffic and we found that the gentle downhill wasn't as bad and she managed to ride it all and sort of enjoy it.  Coming back up the hill was another story as she found the gearing confusing and refused to use certain ratios.  But I put my hand on her back and pushed her up the hill with a few screams every time she thought we were going to crash!  But hey, we had just ridden 5km.

Then a week or so passed and we decided to go to one of the best family riding venues around - Northern Farm.  I opted to trail run while she rode with Dave.  I had all sorts of instructions lined up for Dave about avoiding downhills which she still disliked but they headed off before I got a word in.

I wasn't sure what I was seeing....she rode down the path, squeaked as she went down onto the road and next thing, she disappears into the tunnel which required a short sharp descent.  I fully expected a walk at that point from her!  Last I saw was them heading off to one of the more steeper downhills of the farm.

Nonplussed, I carried on with my run to suddenly find myself chased down by a rampant, confident 11 year old with a smile as wide as the surrounding farmlands.  Dave was gobsmacked.  She demanded more and more downhills, rode uphills with great determination and rode the flats at twice the speed of her previous downhills.

Suddenly, she had got it.

Posted via email from Go Cycling

Monday, September 14, 2009

How can I be envious

But I am.  Kevin Davie, journo, Freedom Challenge finisher, is riding another adventure as I write.

For the last year or so, he has doggedly ridden and mapped a mountain bike route from Polokwane in the north all the way to KZN to link up with the Freedom Challenge trail.  And now he is riding his route non stop. 

He started in the picturesque village of Haenertsburg, just outside Tzaneen and plans to finish in Dordrecht in the Eastern Cape.  I had to look that up on the map! So in fact, he overlaps most of the first 6 days of the Freedom Challenge heading further south than Rhodes (also the finish of the Ride2Rhodes).

He left on Saturday 12th September and he expects the journey to be about 1500km.  He has taken two days to get to Orighstad (about 193km) with a sleep out in a village and an encounter with giraffe.

So why am I envious?  I've hardly ridden at all lately.  Because I know the joy of just riding for days on end without time constraints, with just pure adventure in mind.

I may just have to meet up with him somewhere on the route for a day or two!

Follow him on Twitter @spinerun

Posted via email from Go Cycling

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Remember the Ride

Seeing I'm not riding my bike at the moment, I am re-living some of the memories.  These pics are from a ride we did from Plettenberg Bay to Cape Town (South Africa) in January.  More later.

But there is light on the horizon.  I am making tentative plans to do a Jollie Patrollie (translation: very easy ride) on Saturday at Northern Farm to be finished off by a bacon and egg roll.  Now there's an incentive.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Life in turmoil = neglected bike

The dust gathers on both my bikes.  I am not in love with my mountain bike at the moment.  I haven't yet removed the gripshifters and they are not set right missing three big gears.  I just don't have the energy to sort it out. 

I had a great road ride on Saturday to Greenside - the home of Vida and great cafe mocha.  Chilled, good company and a few laughs ont he way.  Since then, nothing, nada.  I am hanging on to the running though and paying attention to my also neglected garden.  Spring is a good time to focus on long overgrown beds and weed ridden lawns.

After the Freedom Challenge, I felt restless and needing change.  I just didn't think it would come all at once and knock me flying. I'm left with huge knots in my stomach and playing my ipod loud when I run!  So I am trying to go with the flow, some of which I can control and the rest....well, it is what it is!

Posted via email from Go Cycling

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Running with Dogs

Hmmm, that sounds like some way out band or cult movie.  But no, its the intricacies of running (with dogs).
I haven't been able to get back on the bike for a whole pile of reasons but mainly, I just don't feel like it.  Also, I now prefer to ride my road bike for a change but that group has disintegrated and I will have to attach myself to others soon.  Spring is here and I don't want to miss out.
So in the meantime, I am running.  Carefully at first as I don't want a re-occurrence of the calf problems that plagued me before the Freedom Challenge.  So I have built up oh so slowly.  The upside is that the dogs have been able to join me with a slow build up in their fitness too.
I admit they have been under exercised and must be completely bewildered by this change in their fortunes.  The problem is always leaving one behind.  They just don't get it - "tomorrow is your day". So, after locking one hysterical dog in the house (to be let out once I have left), I head out with the other 35kgs of dog muscle raring to go. 
Nyx is pretty cool.  Essentially a timid dog unless there is a gate between her and the "enemy", she jogs along without tugging on the leash.  She's not much interested in the cacophony of dogs barking at us as we run past and is quite ladylike with her ears alert and neat foot action.  But every now and then, she stops or swings in a circle to check on me and I have to do some fancy footwork to avoid being tripped up.
But Trinity, oh my.  She stares down every dog as we pass, superior in her attitude that she is out there and they are, well, in there.  She pulls on the leash until we hit the first hill and only then begins to slow down to a pace I feel comfortable with.  I must admit to acting the dead weight to get her to tire sooner.  She runs in a straight line with the occasional bound at some dog behind a gate, but a stern "LEAVE!" brings her back on track and we're on the way again.
This week, they have graduated to the 8km route which is interspersed with stretching sessions.  But what a treat for them as this route passes the local river and I let them off the leash for a swim.  They just radiate joy stretching their legs at speed and lunging in and out of the water.  I swear I hear them laughing.  Then it is my turn to keep jumping out the way to avoid have water sprayed on me as they shake their coats.
And then its time for the home stretch and the reunion with the dog left behind. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Digirati, Twitterati, bloggerati, rati, rati, rati!

I have started updating this blog with my general postings which can also be found at Go Cycling.

Do you fall into one of these "new" communities? I've balked at all this sharing and caring stuff. To me, Facebook was a place for voyeurs and exhibitionists and Twitter, well who the hell wants to know what you had for breakfast or that you have a hangover.
So writing a blog was a major step in sharing thoughts and experiences. Initially, I wrote to record information for myself, an e-journal. But then, family and friends suddenly were in the loop and were interested in my shenanigans and wanted more. My parents finally got to get bragging rights about my activities and travels. Pity I didn't do this when I was still a canoeing fanatic.
The Freedom Challenge (2300km mountain bike event across South Africa) gave me more impetus on the writing side and I churned out posts detailing our preparations and riding community antics. Then I discovered the value of Twitter. It was the perfect news tool. From anywhere in the country, so long as I had cell phone reception, I could keep everyone updated as to our progress. As the event took about 3 weeks, it was extremely potent method of communication, especially as I had a new Blackberry featuring Twitterberry.
But once the event was over, I figured that was the end of it. But no. I began to read up on using Twitter as a marketing tool and to my delight I have found enormous value in searching for interesting people in business who in turn referred me to other people of value. The short messages allow me to skim through the information and choose what I want to follow up on. The problem is, where does it end. The ability to connect with information is so easy. No more subscribing to newsletters, just follow the person and choose an article to read.
I still don't have an interest in the social aspects of Twitter although, I have remained more connected to family and friends overseas. Some of the people I follow tend to overshare their personal lives and I can see that despite their fame and profile, they will soon be unfollowed.
So I am learning about social networking as a business tool and have added some of these facets to my cycling race websites. My only fear is that by the time I am up and running, these tools will be passe` and it will be the next big thing that I will be scrambling to understand!