Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stories from the Trail : Food, Glorious Food!

By Derek aka Gadget

So I’m apparently the one that’s best placed to comment about our great mtb eating out adventure which started in Haenertsberg’s Iron Crown Pub with carbo loading draft beers and ended at Swaziland's Bulembu Country Hotel with ‘serious’ milkshakes @ a mere R12 a pop excl GST !

Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that whenever anyone was looking my way I had a bacon, egg & cheese sammie in my mouth or just because I relate most of my mountain biking adventures in terms of the catering that was provided. Well, no mountain biking adventure of note is complete if it can’t sustain its epic riders, ‘vakansie perde’ and those breakfast riding, weekend guru’s that reside somewhere in between.

We had a spectacular adventure and the support along the way ensured we were more than well catered for. You can’t exactly ride for six days in a row through some of the country’s biggest mountain ranges without food now can you ? Our hosts at all the overnight stops were well briefed on what to expect from a pack of ravenous mountain bikers and boy did they step up...

Breakfasts usually included porridge or cereals, yogurts, fruit juices along with significant quantities of deliciously crispy bacon, sausages, farm fried sunnyside eggs, toast and jams with the regular coffee & tea’s etc. We even had freshly baked chocolate muffins one morning – Wow ! Of course not everyone can ride straight up a mountain on such a big breakfast so it’s always a good idea to make sammies for second breakfast. Ok, so I make two and maybe a muffin too...Strewth, you never know what might befall you up in those mountains - you might actually have to share one !

We were always provided with equally delicious lunch packs mostly carried in the backup vehicles which met us around halfway every day. These lunch ‘packs’ ranged from platters of sammies to personalised boxed lunches of frikkadels, boiled egg, cold salty roast tatties, banana, apple, muffin, selected fruit juices & even a chokkie ! No shortage of carbs & protein - is there?

So what about afternoon tea and dinner ? Well afternoon tea usually coincided with our daily finishes. Yes we actually rode quite hard despite all the royal catering and frequent water stops along the way. Temperatures soared to above 40*C on a number of big riding days so hydration was critical. Here our backup vehicles played a crucial role and provided ice cold cokes, fruit juices and fresh water. When no backup vehicle was around, Spaza shops worked equally well.

A most memorable spaza stop was around midday when a group of us were craving an ice cold coke after traversing a mountain range and ending up in the 42*C Olifants river valley. The lovely Ester Maboqwani (“I’m so heppy”) had these on hand and we each consumed a litre and more.

Our most memorable afternoon tea must be the one we had at Kaapsehoop. We started the day riding out of a valley near Long Tom pass and ended it riding up a 23km swelteringly hot 42*C climb to Kaapsehoop. Our guide for the day, Dennis, promised us that there were the best sweet or savoury pancakes ever at the top of the climb and boy was he right !!! The owners spaniel named ‘Lieflap’ thought so too....

You might think that after all this feasting every day that dinner was a lazy underrated affair.  Well you’d be dead wrong! How about Borsht with frozen vodka for starters, Maranga chicken & basmati rice served with sides of fresh garden salad, spicy beans and pickled jalapeno chillies rounded off with crème caramel topped with pomegranate and chocolate ! All this served on a silver dinner service & accompanied by fine white wines and copious snores for the rest of the night in the trout bungalow next to a burbling brook...

Or how about a piping hot choice of chicken or beef lasagne with fresh garden salad or beef potjie and rice. At Queens Rose we were treated to smoked ham & banana mayo starters with crisply roasted farm chicken, roast potatoes, rice & gravy, cinnamon & sugar pumpkin fritters topped off with a hot brandy & custard tart....

And last but not least there are always the foodie oddities: Ben with a white bread & Bar One sammie, Gadget picking fresh tea for the pot at Senteeko and poor Dennis desperately trying to revive a hot banana that rode 30km sandwiched between his backpack and riding shirt...

I’ve since joined a therapy group for recovering mountain biking foodie’s if anyone is interested. Most meetings start thus: “Hi my name is Gadget and I ate way too much food on that mountain biking adventure ride...

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Stories from the trail continued : View from the back

As the weeks roll on, we still have memories of the great week of riding from Magoebaskloof to Swaziland.  Our medic, Glenn (don't call me unless you are unconscious or not breathing), had a different view:

Doug, Fiona and I got together on the Wednesday evening for a preview of the proposed route on 1:50 000 maps as well as Google Earth. The proposed route was thorough and once we had established the routes for each day, the logs were downloaded to the gps and we were ready to go.


Met with Fiona and the rest of the cycling party on Saturday morning north of Pretoria. The group travelling to Heanertsberg consisted of two vehicles, A medical vehicle (myself) and a support vehicle. Nine of us travelled up arriving in Haenertsberg in the early afternoon. We were booked in at Lamei Lodge, a wonderful off the beaten track overnight stop surrounded by plantations. The rest of the afternoon was spent in the little town wandering around their spring festival. The group that would be doing the mountain bike route were all battle hardened veterans of the sport and everybody was very comfortable with each other and got on well. It has to be said that Fiona picked the overnight stops well as the food at each and every place, although different each time, was truly amazing.


Up at 5 am. Breakfast at 6 am. On the road at 6:30 heading for Makutsi camp in the Legalameetse Nature Reserve.  We weren't sure whether the vehicle would be allowed through at Wolkberg onto the Makutsi trail so the medical vehicle circumnavigated this region. It was a 100 km round route to the Legalameetse Nature Reserve’s main entrance and another rocky drive to meet up with the group for lunch at the bottom of Orrie Baragwanath Pass. It was a difficult and tough route to navigate as the route took us through stunning sections of mountain ravine along sheer cliff edges. At this point the clutch on the air conditioning compressor decided to pack up so no more air con. Took us all of twelve hours to complete the route.


On the road +/- 6:30 am heading for Crystal Springs near Sabie. First two hours was extreme 4x4ing as I wound my way through a very narrow ravine crossing the same river 15 or 16 times and then a steep climb up out through some nice 30 degree angle rutted tracks. Just the thing to do to get your blood pumping early in the morning. I was then sent on a reconnaissance mission to recce a possible alternative route down the mountain to the Olifants river. Turns out the cyclists went the long way around and followed my tracks down the mountain. By midday I was convinced I had lost the group and I was now in a small rural village and there was only one way out – southwest towards Burgersfort. Nobody spoke English or Afrikaans so after searching the area for tyre tracks and trying out various amusing styles of animated sign language with the locals, I figured I had come out ahead of the group. I decided it was time for coffee. While indulging my favourite passion under a huge Indaba tree, the group caught up with me, in straggled bunches. They had clearly had a physically testing ride so far.

Refreshed we set off for Burgersfort and beyond to my biggest challenge for the trip - crossing the Oliphants River. With no obvious road and no other vehicle to pull me out if I got in too deep, I approached it with some trepidation. and walked back and forth for half an hour looking for a spot where I wouldn’t leave the undercarriage behind. After a few rather enthusiastic locals waded through to prove the depth and stability of the soil, I decided on a spot. I was half way through when I came up onto a silt bank which didn’t like the weight of my car and decided to give way. I bogged down and thought for one frightful moment
that I was in for a two kilometre hike to the Alverton mine ahead to get a front end loader to come and pull me out. The cyclists of course had all scurried on ahead so no help from them. Aaaah  - the wonders of diff lock combined with low range and really good mud terrain tyres (no better combination) I hit the diff lock and dropped into low range and literally ploughed my way through, up and out the other side.

The group had split to try different routes up a valley and I was to follow the more tricky route but there was absolutely no way a vehicle could get through. I used the mine road to drive the six kilometres
to the top of the valley. I spent over an hour searching for the explorers before leaving to drop the lunch packs off with the rest who had opted for the district road.
Temperatures were extreme (well above 40C) and distances far for that day.

Eventually cell signal kicked in and I got a message from Fiona to say that they had also turned back out of the valley and were on the same route as the rest. It was already nearing 3pm so Fiona rode with me to Burgersfort for a meeting. The group was exhausted so loaded up in Burgersfort and drove to Crystal Springs arriving around 6pm. Great rooms and the food and beer wasn’t bad either.


Day 4 was a leisurely ride for the riders, Up at 6:00 am. Breakfast 6:30 am. At the main gate and cycling by 7:15. Dennis Lawrie had joined our merry little group the night before to guide us through the next two days. This gave me the opportunity to sleep late and only get up at 7:30 am. Well not quite, my early body clock decided today was no different. I had to meet the riders at Misty Mountain at 12:30 pm where the gps tracks exited the forestry plantations and ride the remainder of the route with them.

I checked out Pilgrims Rest before heading to Sabie for a well earned cup of coffee and a waffle. (one of the unfortunate perks of this kind of special event work).  While waiting for the riders, a branch from a Bluegum tree detached itself about fifteen metres above my vehicle and paid my bonnet a visit depositing two lovely prize dents that I really didn't require.  We arrived at about 2 pm at Gunyatoo Lodge - a pristine trout farm complete with dams, hatchery and lovely stone and timber accommodation.  We rounded the day off sitting around a big table having dinner and chatting. A couple of penalty drinks were also issued to team members.


Up at 5am. Breakfast at 6am. On the trail by 6:30 am. The cyclists were in for an easy days ride and kept mostly to private and state owned timber plantations. It was an easy wind along plantation roads, marsh land until we arrived in Kaapsehoop. More beer and waffles for lunch and off to the local backpackers accommodation where we would be staying for the night.  I took a two hour hike up onto the escarpment where I had a breath taking view down into the lowveld. Kaapsehoop was established in the 1880’s as a result of the gold rush and is a most beautiful little town complete with original mine managers house and jail that has been well preserved. The rock formations on the way up to the escarpment and the sheer 1000 foot drop off’s on the escarpment into the lowveld made this a stunning place to overnight.


Another relatively short day, +/- 50 kilometres. Up at 5:30 am. Breakfast at 6:30am. We set off around 7am. A new member of the team joined us the night before, Glenn Harrison, a well known extreme mountain
biker holding the record for the fastest time to finish the freedom challenge on a single speed mountain bike. Glenn was our guide for the next two days as he is local from Waterval Boven. We started on the edge of the escarpment at a lookout point and then made our way along the escarpment ridge.  We ran out of driveable road and had to do a bit of bundu bashing and vehicle trailblazing. The riders were waiting for us at a series of steep sand road switch backs that dropped us down into the lowveld again. The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent traversing tea plantations, pine and bluegum forest. We arrived at Queens Rose Youth centre around 2 pm for our penultimate night. The centre is no longer used as a youth centre but is used as an overnight stop for hikers. It was quiet remote and reminded me of veldschool. Wim and Mari who were our host for the night splashed out a dinner fit for kings. Off to bed early.


A long day to finish the route. Up at 5 am. Breakfast at 6am. Set off for Bulembu at around 6:30 am. We followed the cyclists for the first 5 kilometres down through plantations and natural forest with a beautiful
waterfall cascading down the mountain side until we where once again forced by forestry regulations to circumnavigate and wait for the riders on the (R40) road, 25 kilometres from the Swazi border. This meant a
huge route east to Barberton where we were forced again to have coffee and waffles at a lovely little English tea garden right in the centre of town. After a Fuel and toilet stop we headed up the very steep winding mountain pass along the R40 over the mountains to Swaziland. We arrived at our co-ordinates well before the cyclists and spent the next hour and a half wondering around the hillside taking photo’s of the old cable way that was abandoned which used to transport asbestos into South Africa and coal back out.

Eventually the guys arrived and we all had a fantastically packed lunch once again courtesy of Wim and Mari. The last 25 kilometres where to be done on tar road in absolute baking conditions and our little procession moved along slowly. Ben, however, could not contain his excitement at seeing his wife again and shot off into the distance not to be seen again until we actually arrived at the Bulembu Lodge in Swaziland. The border post was really friendly and I even entered Swaziland without having to fill out a customs form for the car (had to pay the R50.00 though). Good thing I came back out through the same relaxed border post the following morning.

The last two kilometres were all down hill into what seemed at first a ghost town. Bulembu is a mining town that was established here in the forties when asbestos was discovered. It flourished during the fifties, sixties and
seventies. Then in the Eighties it fell on hard times as South Africa went through its changes eventually closing down in 1992. It opened for a short period again in the late nineties but eventually went into bankruptcy under the new ownership and closed around 2002. A couple of years ago it was bought up by a Canadian welfare organisation and was converted into an orphanage aiming at catering for 2000 orphans by 2020.

When you arrive you feel like you have stepped back in time to the fifties. It still has the original cinema at the old exclusive mine members club complete with original cinema seats and movie projectors. In it’s heyday, the mine housed more than 600 families and came complete with its own first world hospital and very own power station. I spent the afternoon exploring the old buildings and chatting to some of the old residents who were there for a reunion, about the history of the place. I had one small cut knee to attend to as Ben had fallen off on the initial descent out of Queens Rose in the morning and had decided now was the time for TLC. We had a wonderful dinner at the Lodge in the evening and later we sat around a huge steel brazier obviously salvaged from the old mine with a roaring fire and some of those old locals I mentioned above playing the guitar and singing. Sleep was wonderful at the end of such a long and busy trip.


We all agreed to a late start Saturday morning. Breakfast at 7:30. Didnt help, I was still up at 5 am. (Damn fresh air and beautiful countryside to blame) A great continental breakfast was laid on for us and eventually the vehicles were packed and everyone was set for the return trip. We reluctantly crossed back into South Africa although wishing we could all have just kept on going. We all arrived home late Saturday afternoon in Pretoria where we said our final goodbye’s and I arrived home around 6 pm.


I didn’t realise at the start of the trip, just what beautiful countryside I would be driving through. I have never actually been up to the North West part of South Africa which is strange as I have been all over the rest of the world including Africa. Sections of the trail follow the renowned “African Ivory” 4x4 trail which in itself is magnificent. More importantly I soon realised that large parts of the route we where following are not open to the public and very few people other than hikers get to appreciate it. Thanks to Fiona’s drive and determination, cyclists will now have this opportunity too.

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

500kms of mountain biking helps your running

Its only a week since we've been back in the big smoke and its been a flurry of race reports, write ups and round ups of our ride.  We have decided to re-christen it but that is for another time (when we've finally decided).

The problem we're all experiencing is loads of flash back and an extraordinary amount of time spent sifting through photos and reliving the week.

In July, I ran the Hout Bay Trail run and have been hankering for more and finally, the trail running series has come to Gauteng.  I entered the 12km long course at Hennops and went hunting for my amazing muti - USN's anabolic nitro.

I run maybe 2-3 times per week, not a lot and its been a very long time since I ran anything over 10k - even on the road.  But I dragged the Garden Godmother along with me so that I could suffer with someone else.

A last gasp search the day before netted me some sachets of the energy drink and I felt confident that I would be ok.  Amazing what strange beliefs we hang on to.  I had convinced GG that it would help her too seeing the last time she ran 12km was part of the 90km marathon called the Comrades in May.

So nervously yabbering non-stop, we headed out to the venue which was a pretty shaded spot next to the Hennops river.  We glugged the bitter tasting concoction convincing ourselves that the worse it tasted, the better it was and then we were off.

We started on a country road which wound around for about a km before hitting a meander next to the river. With this loop over, we set out in earnest on some dusty single track heading back upstream and in short time, we were out in the open with the towers of Pelindaba looming in front of us.

I walked the first climb, not wanting to blow too early and then settled into a reasonably rhythmic jog to the base of the big climb at 6km.  So far, so good.  This climb was about 1k and it was a hike up over rocks and around huge aloes.  There was a lot of chatting and cameraderie here as no one could go faster than the next and my legs burnt somewhat. I was fully expecting the jelly to set in at the top but no, we were off again at a good clip and my legs felt fine.

My biggest problem was my frozen water which hadn't defrosted as quickly as I thought so I got a few drops every now and then.  (Several hours later and its still ice cold - won't make that mistake again).  The trick is to stay focused as even the smallest loss of concentration can result in damage and that Pelindaba rock is extremely sharp.

All of a sudden, we joined the short course and I glanced at my watch - 12km done already.  I was surprised at how quickly it had gone.  We dropped down to a rickety cable bridge over the river and we could hear the announcer getting closer.

I still felt remarkably strong and hadn't faded at all - just a tad thirsty.

I finished in a clump of long and short course runners and it was over.  It was the longest and shortest run I had done in a long time.  Although the final distance was somewhere between 12,5 and 13km, it felt like minutes since I had started.  Time freezes with the joy of running on trails and focusing on the minutiae of placing your feet every step of the way.

So where do the 500kms of riding come in?  Somehow, to my embarrassment, I won my category.  As an average and under trained runner, this was completely unexpected. 

So I am claiming the riding and the muti as my secret to success.

GG ran in a short while later beaming and had also found that her stamina had not waned over the course so she's off to invest in new trail shoes and more sachets.  We're probably going to can the road running race next week in favour of another trail run.

The bug has bitten.

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