Its been a hectic couple of weeks but it ended with some great riding in Sabie. Every year we host a pre ride for the four day Sabie Experience where we test the race routes for the event in December. This year we also had the Sabie Experience Lite route options. I arrived earliesh on Thursday to do some admin and meet with the race office. Glenn, the race director for the Lite, also pulled in and the team assembled over dinner to run through the millions of details that make up the successful hosting of a stage race. The weather was hot and dry and we headed off the next morning through town to tackle what would be Stage Two of the race. The banter was soon replaced with heavy breathing and cursing as the riders sweated their way up the first climb. And the group soon splintered all over the plantations. I struggled with a hectic heart rate and worse than useless energy levels and eventually I suffered the ignomy of calling it a day and getting into the back up vehicle. As the temperatures soared there was a lot of bartering for my seat but I hung on for all I was worth. The upside was that I converted to riding the Lite routes which gave me some insight as to what these riders were in for. Great decision. We were finished before the heat of the day kicked in and we had many hours of extra R&R before the others staggered back, hot, weary and thirsty. The last day saw a quick shower as we were about to start but 5kms up the road it was dry and stayed that way until we started on a mean climb. Then it was a fine drizzle which kept us cool and hydrated. Our group was somewhat larger on this day with a lot of riders opting for the shorter option. A hot shower and a snack brought three great days to an end. The Sabie Experience remains one of the toughest events on the calendar and located on the edge of the escarpment means there is no respite from the climbing or the weather of that region. The Lite will also test riders who will have dramatically improved their riding when they complete these four days. It comes down to mental tenacity. Why do something if its not a challenge. We have to go out of our comfort zones to feel alive. Do you agree?
Monday, November 1, 2010
It was back to Burgersfort to see if we could compress day two down to a manageable distance. Doug, Glenn and I were lucky to get accommodation at Kusile Guest House - not only for the stunning rooms but also for back up allowing us to ride untried and untested trail. Kudos to the people of Burgersfort for the help and support. It's a scorchingly hot town but the warmth of the peoples hearts more than match the searing temperatures. Let me elaborate. One of the things I have enjoyed the most about putting this trail together is the detective work. One of my contacts in Burgersfort works on the mines - JohanR - and we've had many a conversation on the phone, me on Google Earth while I ply him with questions on the various route options. He had mentioned a more direct option to Burgersfort from where we first meet the Oliphants River and I could find most of it on Google Earth but there was a significant gap. Unfortunately, we were still destined not to meet but he gave me the first names of some local quad bikers who he thought knew the route. My job was to track them down - no surname, no telephone numbers but the name of a water project for the local communities and mines. I love the internet. It took me a while but I found them. JohanE was the man for the job. He and his fellow quadbikers had cleaned up an old and forgotten track through to Penge. We made an arrangement to meet early on Saturday morning but late on the Friday evening, he phoned to say he had gone out, ridden the route and got me a GPS track log! He mailed it through and we were in business. Pity about getting lost trying to get to his house (which we had ridden past a month ago). This included getting stuck at the gate at Havercraft Mine and phoning the Mine Engineer to get permission to go through. He kindly arranged an escort and eventually, several hours late, we arrived at the start of the ride. But this was not all. Driekie and Pieter were our hosts at Kusile and when I asked them if they knew of someone who could drive our vehicle to the start to drop us off, Pieter immediately volunteered. He was quite used to being a second as Driekie is an avid cyclist. Driekie then bravely decided to ride with these oddball cyclists who had no idea of where they going other than a vaguely formulated plan from Google Earth and hearsay. JayBee and Madeleen also accompanied us to the start but ran out of time to ride. Doug had entered all the route options onto his GPS, plotted them on a map and we were good to go with instructions to Pieter to meet us in Penge. What followed was inspiring. Despite the dried out scrub and thorn bushes, we loved this section. It was challenging and rewarding and when we popped out on the banks of the Oliphants River again, we were treated to a fast ride under a canopy of huge trees all the way to Penge. Driekie wisely bailed as this had been the only section that was a logged route. And for the next hour we thrashed through thorn bushes, left blood and fabric on the thorn trees but eventually found the old road we were looking for. I'll not describe this, rather leaving it as a surprise for those who join us on the Trail next year. We popped out for a short 4km section on tar before peeling off onto a dirt road into a village called many names but the one I remember is Sonskyn. A short stop at a spaza shop resulted in warm coke, lemon cream biscuits, tiny Bar Ones and crisps and then we were on our way again. At the end of the road (we knew it would run out - promise) we met an extremely helpful lady who encouraged us to follow the rocky path down the hill which, she assured us, would take us to our next village on our map. Rocky it was and my arms were burning from holding on. All of a sudden, we intersected with the proverbial highway of single track and we bombed down the hill whooping with delight. We figured that this was a track cleared for dragging firewood. We'll just have to figure out where it starts. Then it was a magical ride through villages, wading across the Steelpoort River, chatting to locals, admiring vegetable gardens and finally we intersected with a tar road. We hadplanned to "cut the corner" so we looked for the first or any path to the left and then took a tiger line towards a lone hill which we had identified from Google Earth. There were so many footpaths, goat tracks and the odd car track that we split up and were scatted all over the thorn scrub. Glenn and I reached the village first and were treated to booming music out of a speaker the size of a normal fridge. As we stopped to check tires, we were accosted by a villager who wanted help with setting up his DSTV satellite dish. Unfortunately, neither Glenn nor I had the requisite skills to help. Driekie phoned to check we were alright and agreed to collect us at the local fire station. The three of us regrouped at the railway line and headed back down the road to meet them and be treated to two massive homemade hamburgers each. Oh, there was dessert too. The next day was hotter and we had a stop/start to the day with puncture and tire problems. Eventually we were on the jeep track next to the railway line and climbing to Ohrigstad. Pieter and Driekie would meet us at the top and we would treat them to lunch. It was a hot climb and we were forced to take shelter in the railway culvert for a short break. We were also treated to sight of the very long goods train as it chugged down the hill. As we crested the saddle, there was the vehicle and our great seconds with cold cokes and ice and water. It was a fast 12km to Ohrigstad from there - faster than we thought and we ended up at the only pub/restaurant in the village for a well earned lunch. We were then driven home to pack and head home. The people of Burgersfort hardly knew us but reached out and helped us achieve more than we could have otherwise. Their kindness and generosity was amazing and I for one, can't wait to see them all again when the Trail launches in March next year.