Monday, October 19, 2009

Lost in Translation

Getting lost has its own adventurous charm especially when you have the time and are out and about on your mtb bike with your mates. The trouble is that life is far too rushed and more often than not too full of everything else to enjoy getting lost in the veld on a beautiful spring day. Besides these days you may also get a load of buckshot up your portal for trespassing.....

I have often wondered what it must have been like for those explorers of old to set out into the complete unknown with nothing more than a half a map, a creaky wooden sail boat, a bunch of irritable deck hands and a crap load of ocean between them, their goal and the hereafter. I guess the closest I've come was when a group of us got stuck in the bottom of a serious valley near Vuvu in the Drakensberg after dark. Our map, the compass and the light did nothing to alleviate that feeling of 'inevitableness'.

I realised then that all that stands between you and the hereafter is your state of mind and the degree to which you came prepared. Being able to pull yourself towards yourself rates more highly than being prepared though because more often than not taking a moment to sort through your thoughts amid the bull dust going on around you opens up possibilities that may not have been evident before.

So it was with all this in mind that I was about to lead my companions for the day across 95km of 'Guateng wonderland' for a morning's ride that I had only done once previously without paying to much attention to where we were going. I had got a set of instructions from Fiona and was confident as always that we would have fun knowing that there was a cheese shop along the way for a coke and some grub.

Did we have fun & make it back ? Yes we did and mostly because Malcolm who originally developed the route led the way (he was a late addition to our group). We got to see more and had a richer experience with his guidance - thanks Malcolm.
Did we stop at the cheese shop ? No we didn't because we opted to try a different longer route which excluded the cheese shop but included a Spaza shop.
Did we go hungry and thirsty ? No we didn't because we were well prepared with food & hydration for a long ride on a hot spring day.
Would we have made it back if Malcolm had not joined us ? Of course, Fiona's directions were spot on except for the detours we decided to take on Malcolm advice.

All in all a great day out and even though we had deadlines, not so rushed that it wasn't fun. After all why do we ride if not for a bit of fun with our mates.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Big Trouble At LittleTeak

So there we were at 6am on a bleak rainy Saturday morning on our way to Teak Place and back home for what I had pitched as a fun 60 odd km ride. I thought that it would be fun to ride from Broadacres to Teak Place in the Cradle of Mankind, do the 21km black route in Teak Place, have a super sized Teaks rock shandy or two and then return home to Broadacres for a lunch thingy.

The idea was sound, Fiona would assist with the route and of course the idea was readily accepted. Also since it was only going to be about 60 km's most of the group felt that after our Freedom Challenge layoff that it was do-able enough for a bit of fun.

So Fiona, Doug, myself and Carine headed off from home, met Malcom at Broadacres and then set off together to Teak Place. We rode via Lanseria and across country towards the top end of Beyers Naude to collect Chris who would join us from the Krugersdorp side.

Despite not discussing a meeting time with Chris and despite us having an interesting navigational discussion via cellphone about which of two 5km distant communication towers on the horizon he should head towards we finally met up along the way.

With all the development taking place out towards the Cradle it is becoming increasingly difficult to find suitable single track routes to our chosen destinations these days. Nonetheless Fiona has a natural built in GPS, uses google earth aplenty and has a fantastic memory of past rides across the veld out towards the Magaliesberg. We found our way to Teak Place across country well enough even though we had to negotiate a very securely locked farm gate along the way.

It was all going quite well until someone commented that their odometer was already registering 35km at Teak Places gate ! That meant that if we did the 21km route at Teak Place plus the 35km back home that our 60km fun ride would end up being about 91km - O crap !!! The distance is not the issue but rather that our minds had been prepared for 60km's, that the weather had cleared up and the temperature was soaring ever upwards towards 30 deg's. Also Teak Place's black route has a few stiff lung busting hills so the fun prospects were deteriorating rapidly.

So after being taken apart for conning them about the distance we hastily made alternate plans for riding only the fun bits inside Teak Place, opting instead for an early rock shandy. Well my troubles didn't end there. I had quoted a mere R18 for a super sized rock shandy in the planning mail when in fact the things cost R28 each ! Strike two !!!

Strike three was the fact that Teak Place was the perfect after ride chill out place and not a good idea for a mid ride stop because it was too easy to get lazy under those large shady umbrellas sipping those super sized rock shandies and watching all that delicious food floating past !!! They've even got beds to park off on under the trees for a nap ! I'd cooked my goose properly by then and they aren't going to let me forget it either....

PS: After taking a shortcut at Teak Place and another shortcut to get home we ended the day at 13:30pm on 85km. So what's a few km's between friends ?

The Final Word - Freedom Challenge 2009

Monday, July 6, 2009

Day 23: Stettynskloof & The Finish @ Diemersfontein

Stettynskloof was a lesson in humility. Brute strength & bluster just didn't do it today. We left Trouthaven with more than a little trepidation today @ around 06:00am headed for the infamous Stettynskloof portage.
And what a portage it was - All 8 km to the head of the valley where we had to climb out of the valley and decend the other side to find a jeep track. We found the footpath at the dam wall at around 8am and headed up the valley just as it was getting lighter. The valley is hemmed in on either side by massively imposing Cape mountains. There are two valleys heading away from the dam so one must make bloody sure you get it right.

Right from the onset our bikes were being snagged by the bush closing in around the footpath. Every now and then our clothes would also be snagged, almost as if Stettynskloof was trying to tell us something ! Little did we know that this was just the begining of an epic day.
There are also numerous little streams coming in off the mountains and running into the main stream, which after a few days of heavy rain would be unnavigable or crossable. We made steady dogged progress crisscrossing from the eastern side to the western side of the main stream numerous times to get past the sheer cliffs and dropoffs along the way.

We did great (Had'nt completely lost our sense of humour yet !) until we crossed the river for the umteenth time & headed up the scree field (it's a whopping bloody boulder field !) , the wrong way. We should have crossed over to the left hand side & then headed into & up the fast flowing stream for 20 odd meters before exiting to push up the slope. Well we did'nt and Sean succumed to my concern that the narrative said to go up to the right where would miraculously find a path heading out of the side valley and back onto the main track.
The mistake cost us more than an hour & a massive amount of wasted energy. We bashed 100m up that side before I finally listened to Sean and headed back down to the boulder field. We had fallen into huge holes, slipped off the edge of the mountainside and cut and bruised ourselves no end ! Our bikes also did'nt escape with bent and dinged frame & components.

Having eventually negotitaed our way past the boulder field we were met with the remainder of the valley which from where we were standing looked relatively ok despite the lack of another path - yeah right !!! The grass is long, the bush bloody thick and the terrain hides numerous rocks, pot holes, donga's and every manner of obstruction known to man.

The mountains came alive with both Sean and my shouts of frustration and indignation that Dave W could make us do this so close to the end. He was'nt our friend anymore - if those mountains could talk......! The valley echoed with our cursing time and again as we struggled up to the protea field. See if you can spot Sean in the protea's in the accompanying pic !!! Yes they're beautiful but they are also your nemises as you head up the valley.

We had to negotiate these things to cross the stream one last time before we were faced with a massively daunting climb out of the valley into the next one to the jeep track. The climb out took us more than an hour and an incredible amount of perserverance and willpower. It's not a joke and no one I know or have spoken to has ever enjoyed Stettynskloof.
It must be said that it evokes all manner of awe inspring feelings within you because of its absolute rugged beauty and when you crane your neck to look up at the imposing mountains towering high up above you on either side of the valley you finally begin to realise your place in the universe.
We finally got to the head of the head of the valley @ around 17:30pm and managed to pick up the farm track over on the other side just as it was getting dark. We headed out the next valley (12km's) towards the foot of the Dutoitskloof.

From there it was an 11km climb to the top of Dutoitskloof pass where we were met by Dave Wadilove & Fiona. We got a quick run through of the route into Diemersfontein. Sean & I made it to the finish @ around 20:00pm, 23 days after we started !

We made it !!!

Day 22: McGregor to Trouthaven

It was a wise choice to overnight @ McGregor because it gave Sean & I the opportunity to recover a bit. Also we would have made heavy work of the next 25km's to Kasra farm because it involved a wagon route portage over a mountain that was quite tricky in the daylight.

So it was that we left Carol's fantastic & friendly hospitality this morning after a delicious breakfast @ 06:00am for Kasra. We got to the portage at first light & negotiated the very rocky wagon route up & over the mountain. We nearly missed the track off to the left off the mountain & would have ended up way off track in another valley !

The ladies @ Kasra - Elsa & Alda - ensured we had a great second breakfast of fresh baked bread, cheeses, preserves, coffee & fruit in their lovely farm kitchen. I was truly sorry we couldn't overnight there as their hospitality is somewhat legendary amongst the riders, past & present.

From Kasra Sean & I proceeded on to the next stage of 84km to Trouthaven. Another wagon route type portage awaited us as we had to cross over another mountain to pick up a farm road on the other side before hurtling down a concrete road to a main road intersection.

The views & winelands of the Cape region are truly dramatic & the weather has been awesome. Sunshine & mostly light breezes has characterized the last 2 days. It was a pleasure riding thru this beautiful stretch in such superb weather.

The wind did hit us hard head on this afternoon along the Brandvlei section (15km's) which made a long day just that much tougher. Nonetheless we survived and finally turned off to Trouthaven guest farm & a welcome cuppa tea !

We are both happy & thankful to have made it this far, particularly since we are both nursing injuries etc. I am looking forward to tackling the sting in the tail tomorrow - Stettynskloof bundu bash - simply because I want to get it over with now.

I want my blanket !

Day 21: Anysberg to McGregor

It turns out a key to Cape Natures offices & our boxes had been left with a paying bird watcher in a bungalow near where we had slept with a message that we would arrive @ 17:00 pm - go figure !

We finally left Anysberg nature reserve @ 08:30am this morning after a miserable cold night in the shed determined to make it to Kasra by this evening - a 160 km day.

We made good time to Montagu (13:30pm) where we lunched @ the Montagu Country Hotel which was our support station (Would recommended a stay there anyday). The ladies there were so worried about Sean & I not arriving in the early hours as planned that they wanted to drive a bakkie out to look for us ! There's no cell reception @ Anysberg either so we couldn't get hold of anyone.

After a great lunch, Sean & I pressed on for McGregor & hopefully Kasra but soon realised that the lack of sleep & food for breakfast was taking it's toll on us. In addition we're both injured and there would be nothing to gain by getting to Kasra today.

We have opted to stay over in McGregor (Arrived @ around 18:00pm) & get a good nights sleep. We covered about 140km's today including an awesome 25km decent into Montagu for another double stage finish & have effectively got two days in hand now.

Tomorrow we head for Trouthaven, Stettynskloof the next day and hopefully a Monday afternoon finish @ Diemersfontein.

Day 20: Die Hell to Rouxpos & Anysberg NR

We left Die Hell late @ around 06:00am and shortly after got to the foot of 'the ladder' after getting quite wet crossing a number of streams enroute. This is a seriously treacherous & precarious climb straight up the side of a damn steep, rock strewn mountain face.

The 'path' looks like an old tight narrow switchback watercourse but it isn't. It's about a 1km climb to the top & you have to carry your bike all the way up because it's so narrow & steep !
Hair raising stuff to be sure. Amazing to think that this was the alternative Donkey route into the valley on the good ol days when the locals were cut off by road ! I would have said impossible.

Anyway I waited almost an hour for the rest of the group to get up by which time Sean had gone on ahead. I rode steadily along a very rocky jeep track leaving the group behind & finally catching up with Sean.

We decided to press on ahead to Rouxpos farm & made it in by 14:00pm. I was most annoyed after reaching Rouxpos that the group didn't press on to there the previous day because we would easily have made it to the road by sunset & into Rouxpos a few hours later to gain another day stage. I was led to believe that it was a very difficult stage & that we wouldn't manage it in the same day ! Rouxpos however was a delight in many ways, not least of all Ronel & Gerhard's fantastic hospitality. Bobotie, rice, salad, fresh bread, cheese, preserves and a magnificant homemade waffel with ice cream !!!

Sean & I decided to press on for Anysberg Nature Reserve @ around 15:00pm & thought we might try for Montagu for a 230km day. Yeah right ! We entered the reserve in darkness after a much needed cup of coffee & a rusk or two with Mrs Fourie along the way. She's lived on her farm for more than 50 years and is a delightful kindhearted elderly lady.

We got to the 'support station' @ 11pm. Total darkness met us & we couldn't see or find anybody @ Cape Natures offices to let us know what was what.
By midnight Sean & I decided to sleep in the shed where they kept the horses lucerne bails because without our boxes & maps we could go nowhere anyway.
We each grabbed 3 bails and laid them out into makeshift beds. We put on all the kit we could find and wrapped ourselves in our space blankets for added warmth. We fell asleep tired, dirty & hungry despite Gerhard & Ronels wonderful lunchpacks from Rouxpos farm.

So ended a 150 odd km double stage.

Day 17 & 18: Baviaanskloof & The Moordenaars Karoo

Typed 2 paragraphs last night & fell asleep & deleted the lot between snores !!! So here's round 2:

We left a very chilly Kudu Kaya in the heart of the Baviaanskloof @ around 05:30am & headed up the Baviaanskloof for around 50km before the road 'flattened out' a bit. We essentially did a 170km of the Trans-Baviaanskloof race route back up to Willomore.

Included was a 'fantastic' 15km uphill twisting & turning up around the kloofs mountains before dropping straight back down into the river valley below !!! And where there's a long downhill, there's almost always a bloody longer uphill.

Stunning scenery & geological landscape features greeted us all the way & even a buffalo or two not 5m off the road. The weather was perfect too.

We stopped briefly at Dam se Drift for a wonderful 'plaaskos' lunch which Estelle had prepared for us. Man oh man - Lamb & potato caserole, venison pie, creamed cauliflower, salad & death by chocolate with custard for dessert ! I nearly never left & had serious thoughts of taking up farming right there !

Nonetheless we continued on climbing up to Willomore and arrived @ 20:30pm after a very long & tiring 170km 2 stage day. The temporary BB fix held too.

Yesterday after a 05:30am start we did another 170km stage from Willomore to Prince Albert traversing the Moordenaars Karoo & skirting the snow capped Swartberg range the entire way.

We stopped at Rondawel farm for lunch - wonderful hospitality & great food - Vetkoek, soup, lasagne & coke. Wow - Thx Chris & Elna.
The day was extremely long, the road corrugated in places and quite undulating. We made it by 19:00pm.

Johan the Prince Albert bike expert waited for us along the way & would have offered us refreshment had we stopped. We didn't stop but caught up with him at our guest house lodging where Ria & Lindsay were fantastic hosts.

He helped me epoxy my BB in place & I hope it will last to the finish. Thank you to my mates David, Dawn & to Johan for being there for me on that major mechanical issue. After all this effort it would be heart breaking not to finish.

Day 19: The Swartberg & The Gamkaskloof

Today was one of those mountain days again - 60 km's or there abouts. After a good 4 hour nights sleep & a hearty breakfast we left Prince Albert & almost immediately started winding up the 4 odd km Swartberg Pass !

Once over the top an all too short decent brought us to the foot of the Gamkaskloof turn off & a 50km ride thru the mountain passes to the Cape Nature facility in the heart of the Gamkaskloof.

Steep long climbs & equally hair raising decents were the order of the day with the most dramatic being the plummet into Die Hell !!!

However before reaching 'heartbreak hill' the now well rested race winner Tim James, his wife Michelle & young son Murray passed us in their van going up the pass.

They wanted to catch Fiona & Doug before they dropped into 'Die Hell' proper with an offer of refreshmments & promised to return.
And return they did. What a gesture that was - Hot milo, biscuits, sweets, cokes & a ton of encouragement from the doyen of the Freedom Challenge, Tim himself. It made our day ! Thank you.

We had decided to make this stage a rest day so we took it easy and are staying in the Gamkaskloof valley with Cape Nature after arriving @ around 14:00pm.

We need the rest after only having 8-10 hours sleep in the last two days. Marionette & Piet who run the private kiosk/eatery down here gave us a fantastic lunch & sorted out our 2l boxes. They also brought us a great dinner & got the wood burning stove going for warmth. Thank you guys, we appreciate the effort. The pics attached should give an idea of where we have been today. You may be able to see the road winding away into the distance up the middle of the two ranges.

The Gamkaskloof is extremely dramatic & quite tiring to ride after having completed well over 1500km's of our race already. There's more to come however !

Also after a 'leave' of absence, some major bike problems & a time penalty Sean is back with the group again.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Day 16: Baviaanskloof & the Osseberg Jeep Track

We left Bucklands farm & Hannes & his daughter Lisa's kind warm hospitality this morning @ around 06:00am. We had to take a farm track to the main district road thru the Baviaanskloof because of the hunting taking place around the mountain portage.

A district road sounds like fun until you see the the ups & downs of the kloofs along the way. Once we had crossed into the Wilderness area we had to negotiate a 5km, 400m rough decent into the river valley far below, followed by an equally challenging ascent of around 9km to the top of the pass. We walked a lot !!!

We were however rewarded with a distant view of the sea near Jeffreys bay before heading right into the Baviaans again via the old treacherous Osseberg jeep track.

The scenery was awesome despite the hairy descents across badly rutted, rocky tracks which were quite literally carpeted with massive 'doringboom' thorns the entire length of the valley.

Verstaan julle tubed walla's nou hoekom tubeless tyres so belangerik is - jy kan nerens anders ry nie, behalwe bo oor die al dorings !!!

We crisscrossed the river in the valley 11 times in knee deep icy water along the 25km Osseberg route thru the Baviaanskloof. Stunning dramatic geographical landscapes surrounded us with blooming plumbago lining the track. The 'veldflowers' are equally stunning if you take some tiime to notice them.

It was a tough (98km) but perfect day in every respect. Even the weather was clear, sunny & warm with only a light breeze ! Jean (Dave's mom) awaited us @ 'Kudu Kaya' with a glowing fire, delicious toasted cheese croutons, chicken & potato soup & an equally delicious lamb stew.

I've discovered that my bikes BB cup threads are striped which is a major mechanical problem !!! I may be able to have it fixed at Prince Albert, which is still 2 days & about 350km's away !!!

I've used ducktape like plumbing tape to stabalise the crank a bit and am hoping against hope that I can limp into Prince Albert without a catastophic failure !!!!!!

I want to finish this challenge because I have perservered with two broken saddle bags, a badly slashed & now useless spare tyre, a bruised shin, an inflamed aching knee, an inflamed achillies tendon (other leg) & a dislocated finger, not to mention the horrendous muddy, wet, snowy, cold miserable bloody weather.

Nonetheless it's been a mindblowing experience all round & I am looking forward to the last few days of my epic adventure. Tomorrow we hope to cover two stages of around 170 odd km's to Willomore skipping Dam se Drift. We'll see how we go.

Anyway I need some sleep now, it's 23:00pm & we have a 04:00am wakeup. Just hope I can fall asleep with all the lumbermilling coming from the other three. Bloody hell can we all snore !!!

We've just eaten a ton of food & other goodies & I'm starving again. Anyone got a bunnychow handy ?.....

Day 15: Rain & mud again ! - To Bucklands

We left Toekomst farm this morning @ around 06:30am and headed off to go around Darlington dam & thru Addo Elephant park. We made it past the dam without incident, but unfortunately made a navigation error shortly thereafter and headed up a district road on the wrong side of the koppies. It cost us an hour but we worked out the right way and turned around.

To make matters worse the heavens opened up and rained steadily for the next 5 hours. It's soul destroying to have to ride in rain & mud up an old disused jeep track for almost 2hrs and then have to cover the next 70km up some long steep inclines on muddy roads !

We eventually made it to Kleinpoort @ around 16:30pm and decided to stop for a pie & coke. We were starving from riding so hard in the mud. Fortunately the last 30km was fairly flat & Brett, Estelle, Erol & myself made good progress to get into Bucklands farm @ 19:00pm.

It certainly wasn't one of our better days, what with navigation issues and two time consuming mechanicals to sort out. Nonetheless we made it in safely to a welcoming coffee from Hannes & his daughter Lisa, hot soup & a great Bucklands farm dinner which included venison pie.

We rode an extra 15 km on top of the 95km of the stage today, but what's a few extra k's between friends ? Tomorrow is not going to be fun either (95km) with a number of portages around the Baviaans area.

PS: Gerrit dankie vir jou sms'se. Die aanmoediging beteken baie vir my veral op die moelike reen en modder dae waneer my knie so seer raak. Ek wardeur dit vreeslik dat jy die tyd vat om te sms. Weereens dankie.

Day14: A Fine Day - Van De Venterskraal & Toekomst

Today was great. We covered 2 stages (130km) from DeDoorns to Toekomst going past Van Der Venterskraal shortly after lunch. For a change the weather was perfect for riding, despite the chilly start.
The portage down a steep rocky kloof this morning was tiring but stunningly beautiful if you took some time to appreciate the beauty around you.

There was a price to pay this morning - a slashed tyre bead mean't changing the tyre for my spare. I just hope nothing else goes wrong.

The afternoon portage up & over the mountain was equally fantastic culminating in a 14km decent to the main district road below through what appears to be a large game farm.

Brett, Estelle, Erol & myself made good time along the district road sections.
Erol unfortunately took a spectacular fall this evening as we were hurtling down the road to Toekomst.

We were charging along the dirt road in the dark and Erol tried to avoid a rain washed rut, but too late and went flying over the bars !

Fortunately he was ok with only a bit of blood and dust to show for it.

Must get some sleep now - it's 12pm & our wakeup is 04:30am.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Day 13: Snow Patrol to De Doorns

Today was a cold snow day. We tackled the mountain portage @ around 07:30am after leaving Stuttgart farm @ 6am. The freezing conditions made riding easier because all the mud & slush from the previous days bad weather was frozen. (Stuttgart is beyond the peak in the centre of the pic above which was taken almost at the top ! )

The portage involved crossing a snowed up mountain - basically pushing and carrying our bikes up & over, although some of the decent was ridable if you were brave enough.
Conditions were cold (the dam in this picture is totally frozen over !!!) & wet with gusting winds right at the top. Our decision not to continue on yesterday to do this section was correct because the fellow that tried turned back & slept over @ a farm at the foot of the mountain.

Unfortunately we are still a day behind schedule & Fiona & Doug caught up with us at DeDoorns this evening. They certainly are charging along. Nonetheless we made DeDoorns at around 16:00pm today after taking an easy day. This gave us much needed time to clean & maintain the bikes especially after all the mud !

The vista's & scenery are spectacular around here. I would never have guessed that the Karoo region was quite so beautiful. Tomorrow we hope to get to Toekomst covering two stages of around 120km in total.
I just hope the weather plays nice so we can ride ahead strongly instead of mucking around like we have been !

PS: Annie Jane you would have loved the decent off the mountain in the snow today. A serious adrenalin rush with a sheer drop off just a metre or so away from the edge !