Saturday, September 25, 2010
Back in the land of connectivity - and its a shame. There is something very magical about being away from technology and its inherent demands. But it does mean that the blog is behind. We're now at Bulembu just inside the Swaziland border and our recce is over. It seems really quick now but a couple of days ago, it was a different picture. Last communication was at Kaapsehoop which was at a high point. We had slogged to get there but everyone agreed that the climb wasn't as bad as it could have been. We're still looking at alternatives there. We were well treated at the backpackers and without fail, the meals and packed lunches have been amazing. Then it was on to Queens Rose - a hiking and youth centre. It was only about 52km and somehow, we all slowed down and spun the time out. No one was in a rush to arrive so we ambled along, taking photographs, picking tea and in no mood to rush. We had been joined by Glenn who kindly scouted a portage on the day we arrived at Kaapsehoop and prevened us from having to explore that as an option. What he replaced it with was sublime. Switch backs that dropped us steeply into the valley before we swung around towards the overgrown tea plantation. Apparently, they are looking at re-working the plantation which would be great. Its a stunning little valley tucked away. We climbed out the valley on a great track and then parked off for lunch with our support vehicles. So we stopped a lot and ate a lot but this is touring - riding for the moment, not the end line. Next was a bit of exploring and we found a marvellous direct route parallel to a watercourse which brought us out on the exact road to our destination. Half the group went haring off in another direction and missed the experience of mud on tires. (It was the first mud we had seen the whole trip). We arrived at Queens Rose to a warm welcome form Wim and Marie who manage the trail. Our bikes were washed by one of their staff, there were lots of hot showers and tea and coffee on tap. Just as well, as the support vehicle with all our kit in it, went awol. He had ducked into Barberton but couldnt find his way to our gate even with a GPS. Sometimes, good old fashioned navigation is best. He eventually arrived with our (by now) melted ice creams. Dinner was, as Glenn described it, a real mountain bikers meal. Mounds of crisy chicken, roast potatoes, pumpkin fitters, veges, rice and gravy. This was after a starter and then they still served dessert - malva pudding and custard. We ate fit to burst. The next morning, they sent us off in fine fashion with a full breakfast - the whole nine yards. We were off the Bulembu, Swaziland and it was the last day.
We had thought that there may be a possibility of combining the last two days but at the end, it was a no go. It was a great ride but with plenty of climbing and always, lots of descending. We left Queens Rose and had a detour past the Kupid Falls. We started with a 10km descent into the indigenous valley. Ben and Derek went farming and left some skin in the donga but it was minor. Then we joned onto the Barberton Classic route for a long climb out the valley which was superb. When I did that race many years ago, it wasn't that nice. This time around, I really enjoyed it. It wasn't the end of the climbing by any means and we totalled over 1600m of ascent in about 65km. But what great passes and valleys. the mountains in this area are packed closely together and the valleys are extremely deep. We eventually met up with our vehicles for lunch and Wim and Marie had gone ballistic. Two packs containing juice, bananas, apples, bar ones, sandwiches, meatballs and a boiled egg. We needed to be riding 120km to deserve all of that. The next 20km were on a new tar road to the border post at Josefsdal. It was "undulating" but the different surface allowed us a good rhythm despite it being so hot. All of a sudden, it was 1km to the border post and the tour was effectively over. A few formalities and we were descending the final 2km to Bulembu - an old mining town that is being converted into a self sustaining entity to support some of the 2000 orphans in Swaziland. We were accommodated in one of the refurbished mining houses and ironically, we met the man who used to live in the house when the mine was in its heyday. There was a group of ex residents who were having a reunion at the same time as our visit. What a great ride and a fab group of riders. We had fun all the way.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Its day four and we are more than halfway already. Today was once again something different. We started off with some climbing but all great gradients with plenty of recovery. When we eventually dropped down through avo orchards to one of the tar roads, we had a quick refill and snack with the vehicles before heading towards and through Schagen. What a beautiful valley - over the last three days, we had moved from barren scrub to grasslands, plantations and now it was orchards and groves of avos and macadamia nuts. We crossed over the N4 and began a 22km climb up to Kaapsehoop. Luckily the gradient was only steep at the beginning and a bit rough but it smooth out and we were able to maintain a nice cadence. It was pretty hot though when we left the trees and once on top, it was quick to the picturesque town with its old mining houses. The day was rounded off with pancakes and waffles and we are now ensconced in the Backpackers Lodge. Actually, I am ensconced in the pub next door typing this with a beer shandy at hand. The Life as she is supposed to be lived.
We left Crystal Springs at the civilised time of 7:15 to get to the gate of a private game farm of over 2000 hectares. We had arranged to meet the owner John, at a specific time to make the 4km crossing. Once in the farm, we saw herds of buck, wildebees and the odd ostrich galloping across the plains as they caught a whiff of these over active cyclists. The scenery was spectacular with wide open plains that were green and gold. Hidden valleys masked waterfalls and other game. The change from yesterday was so specific, we could have been worlds apart. Crossing out the other side, we climbed to a high pass overlooking valleys to the south and north.Tthe best of all was the pumping tail wind that pushed us up the climbs. I don't remember having this help before and it was good. So good because my legs were burning - not enough recovery routine the day before. Not so good for the forestry people in the region as they were on high alert for fires. We had lunch near the top and could see for eons. Somehow, food tastes so much better like this. Many contour paths later and a skinny dip by Doug and Derek at a waterfall, we reached Long Tom Pass. It was a thrilling but dusty 12km descent to Gunyatoo Lodge. What a gem this place is - filled with character and little nooks and crannies to catch you out. But we found the bar which operated on a tick, and the staff made incredible rolls for the hungry riders. Our washing is now being taken care of and we are all showered and resting. It was a really superb day. About 62km in all but over some of the most magnificent countryside. (Gunyatoo is worth a whole 'nother blog posting.)
Monday, September 20, 2010
The plan was to leave earlier this day because we knew it was exceptionally far. In fact we had two points where we would make a call on whether to push on or not. There was some debate as to the total distance for this day - 135k or 150k. Either way, we realised it wasn't going to happen. We left Makutsi camp and meandered along a stunning 4x4 track but typically, it required many river crossings and pushing. But what beautiful riding along the narrow valley. We eventually summited out of there with a rather steep climb and wound our way towards Mafefe camp on the African Ivory Route. Glenn was instructed to check out a track while we descended into the valley. It had been burnt earlier and we spotted some gorgeous single track cutting out the corner and unfortunately Mafefe camp. Glenn's route was the business - it will cut out about an hour of looping around. It's hard to describe what followed. Technical riding both ascending and descending on a really good track and the final descent to the Oliphants river to the first habititation in a long while, was out of this world. My wrists and calves ached from the strain. We eventually caught up with Glenn under one of the largest trees I've seen in a while and had lunch on the banks of the river and all to soon, we had to push on to the Havercraft mine. Our group had split up earlier and we, the laggards, caught up with them crossing the Oliphants below the dam wall. There was rather a large cliff face to be scaled on the other side so we chose another route. We waded through ankle deep water, found a cattle path and were back to together again. That was the last we saw of that group. Ben, Neal and I chose to explore an optional route which turned out to require more work than we were prepared to do on this day. But there is great potential for when we return. By this time, we were at least an hour behind the others. The road was fast and flat and of course we had to stop at the local spaza/bottle store for a top up. I found the next stretch long. The dirt road was quick to ride but it seemed to drag on. About 22km from Burgersfort was a tar road and we met up with Glenn again. By now the consensus was to stop in this town as it was late. There were also three groups of riders scattered all over the landscape. It took a serious amount of calls to and fro between them and the support vehicles to bring everyone together. I had manufactured a meeting (actually it was necessary) with some mountain bikers in Burgersfort so I headed off there by car. Finally we were altogether and drove up to Crystal Springs. What a difference in scenery - green and lush compared to barren, dry and hot lower regions. It was a big day out and some more research required for this day of the tour. Tomorrow should be easy by the previous day's standards.
An unbelievable day's riding - not easy but rewarding. We set off after a huge meal prepared by Lamei Lodge. It was a five star buffet, with cappuchino muffins straight out the oven and the best crispy bacon in a long time. Tinka had made us a beautiful sandwich pack as well - too nice for scruffy mountainbikers. We heaved ourselves away from the table and rode down to town to meet with Dylan (our late addition to the group) outside the Haenertsburg Village Hall for the official start. And then we were out of there. We rode along some pretty forest track for about 10km until we reached a well established pedestrian path which was the tiger line to the upper forestry levels. It took us about 20' to reach the contour and to get our first views of the magnificent Wolkberg mountains and gorges. Some winding roads and gnarly downhills brought us onto the district road which would get us to the Wolkberg campsite - a well cambered fast descent. We had a short break, filled up with water and paid for the permits before heading out again. A jeep rack undulated around the mountains before dropping us steeply to the Mhalpitsi River. The descent was white knuckle stuff with a few sideways skids but we all made it safely down and then began the umpteen crossings of the river - what a surprise. It was beautiful - spring flowers, green trees and a winding river under a canopy of tall trees. The butterfiles were there in droves too. All to soon, we emerged on the dusty road that signified the start of the Orrie Baragwanath Pass. The gradient wasn't bad but it was hard going because of the rocky outcrops and loose stone. It was also getting really hot. We had met Glenn at the base of the climb and had topped up with water, coke and sandwiches but we all had to stop in patches of shade to cool off and catch our breath. The gate to Legalameetse Reserve popped out of nowhere and it was time for another water stop before heading off for the last of the climb which was only about 7km in length before we hit the equaivalent of the Serengeti plains - a wide open valley teaming with zebra and eland. The road undualtes here and the views were vast. At one point some 4x4 enthusiasts stopped and offered us drinks. We accepted coke and ice which had a distinct brandy flavour but we were past caring. We shared some good laughs with the guys and summoned up enough energy to reach the top of the pass a short while later. Bizarrely. at this point there is a stretch of tar road leading to the main gate. It was a wicked descent down this road and gave a huge shot in the legs for recovery. We stopped at the waterfall, ate some bananas (supplied from Glenn) and flew to the gate. From there it was 12kms to the campsite on a really good surface but by now it had been a long day. With all the stops, we'd been out for 10,5 hours and had ridden about 7 of those. The legs, body and mind felt the 90kms. But sitting on the deck of the chalets in the warm summer air, eating piles of food and sharing war stories brought the day to a super civilised end.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The recce is only a few days away and thank goodness for uncapped adsl and lots of phone minutes. All this technology at hand has made planning and communicating so much easier. We've spent hours pouring over maps and floating above the routes via Google Earth. The "route finders" have sent us as much information via gps as possible but not everything is known. There are so many enticing paths that look ideal but are very different on the ground. Last night, Doug and Glenn (the paramedic as opposed to Glenn the singlespeeder) and I spent several hours checking the route overlays on the 1:50 000 maps. And then there are last minute changes...like this morning. A local from Tzaneen, who spends plenty of time in our start village - Haenertsberg - can take us on a more direct route to the Wolkberg campsite. It involves some portaging but cuts out several hours of riding. And on a day that promised to be about 12 hours - that's good. Portaging that enhances the route is part of the adventure. Plus, we get to one of the prominent peaks in the area. I'm throwing out names of places here but over the next week, you'll get to understand how they all fit in as we relay our adventures over the net. Saturday we travel north which leaves me with two days to finalise everything even the last gasp training. Back to the web, google, email and cell phone.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Oh yes, its September, hot but greening beautifully. The long winter is suddenly over and the days are noticeably longer. Its out with the sun tan lotion and time to pack away the winter gear. The big ride I have hinted at is almost here. A group of 7 intrepid riders are set to explore a route from Magoebaskloof (near Tzaneen in Limpopo) to Swaziland (the last absolute monarchy in Africa - if not the world). Kevin Davie (journo) and Jaco Strydom (www.beit2cape.blogpot.com) have already pioneered a rough route and we are planning to formalise it into a spectacular touring route. Its about 500km that takes us through mountain reserves, private game farms, forestry plantations, tea plantations and over the border. Its been a team effort between locals and passionate riders who have all chipped in with local knowledge, time in the saddle and an adventurous spirit. None of us have done the whole route and most of us have not ridden any of it. We've booked lodges along the way so we'll be comfortable at night and assured of good meals too. We'll be blogging (www.gocycling.posterous.com or www.dash4freedom.blogspot.com) and tweeting (@santacruzrulz) to keep you jealous. Can't wait!