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 !

Day 12: What next ! - To Stuttgart

We are definitely not racing snakes like the rest of the field. Wer'e trying to be consistent & are suceeding to the extent that the weather will allow. We are unfortunately a day behind schedule because of the mud, rain, wind, strain & injuries.

We also didn't manage our double stage today. Whilst it was gusty this morning, we nonetheless made good progress until we got to the mountains around Cradock. Then the heavens blessed us with - you guessed it - more *€$%# driving rain & howling headwinds. Who ever thought that pedalling your whatsit off downhill would be necessary just to keep the bike moving ! We've nearly been blown right off our bikes several times and pedalling hard in granny gear whilst leaning precariously into a gail force wind on a dead flat muddy district road has become somewhat of an art form. The trick is in the recovery when the gust stops !

The mountains where we were headed to are covered in snow & it was bitterly cold again especially when the wind blows off the peaks down into the low lying area's. Wet icy shoes are not fun either & being exhausted from our lack of sleep we decided to stop at Stuttgart farm.

We rolled into Stuttgart farm down a very muddy clay farm road amid a snow flurry ! The pictures are not brilliant because of the phone but the one attached was taken from Amanda's kitchen window. We are headed towards & over the snow covered mountains in the distance / background (10km) tomorrow morning @ 05:30am along a goat track.

On a much brighter note the hospitality along the way after Rhodes has been awesome. Our hosts go way beyond the call to make us feel comfortable, fed & looked after with clean clothing. Yesterday Stephani of Romansfontein farm helped me out with a pair of K-Way winter gloves after my Sealskins mysteriously vanished.

Last night Margret of Elandsberg farm waited up (12:15am) for us to arrive, served us hot soup, homemade bread, bobotie, rice, vegies and pud too. Then she woke up before us to sort breakfast for 05:30 am.

At every overnight stage stop this has been repeated & one feels quite guilty about all the dining & dashing. It is extemely difficult leaving those wonderful farm kitchens with their warm glowing Aga's, Esse's & incredibly kind farm moms behind to head into the biting cold, wind, rain, mud & snow.

So to all those farthers, mothers, daughters & sons of the stage support stations who have made our race more bearable - Kudo's to you all for showing the way in generosity, kindness & care. We thank you, one and all.

PS - I'm going to be trading recipies with those ladies, believe me !

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day 11: No Better Today - To Elandsberg

The last three days have not been fun at all ! Today started @ -2°C before wind chill factors etc. We didn't cross over the top of the Aasvoelberg proper because of the dangerously high winds & ice conditions up there, but went round the long way. We plummeted down a 6km descent down the side of the Assvoelberg before heading into a massive headwind for virtually the whole 130km's today. (Annie Jane you would have loved the decent off the side of that mountain).

Our progress was very slow so we only got to Hofmeyer @ 16:30pm. We had to stop at the famous pie shop & also had rooster cookie chip rolls because we were as always starving and knew we still had a ways to go with another portage to do.

We did the Elandsberg portage (hiking up an old Voortrekker wagon route and across the rock strewn thorn scrub mountain with the bike on the shoulders) in the pitch dark & got in @ 12:30 am !!!

The navigation was very challenging because our reference points weren't visible at all. It was also bitterly cold up there.
At one point right on top we had to find a linking jeep track to get off the mountain. It took us more than half an hour of looking before we found it 20 meters from where we were standing right above it !!!! Darkness is not your friend, especially when you're blundering up and over a mountain range you've never been to in your life before !

Margeret's farm house was a beacon of light coming off that mountain tonight - quite literally. There was not another light visible for miles around as we decended that mountain.
She met us at the front door and once we had had warm showers, served us a scrumptous 3 course dinner. Thank you Margeret for your dedication and kindness, your efforts are appreciated.

It's 02:00am now & we have a 05:30am wake up for our double 110km stage later on, weather permitting, so I'm going to sleep now.

Day 10: Weather Demons - Over the Stormberg to Romansfontein

Weather is horrendous. Driving rain, sleet, massive head winds & mud, mud, mud. Haven't enjoyed today at all and have almost lost my sense of humour ! There was a lot of wet muddy farm tracks and footpaths through the veld to negotiate today. The constant grating of muck in our chains, cranks, deraileurs and brakes was a stark reminder that this was not a joy ride but a serious challenge.
Getting over the Stormberg in howling bitterly cold wind was'nt funny either especially when the jeep track and then eventually the goat tracks run out near the top and you're left wondering how the hell you're going to get down now.

Fortuntaely the sheep know the way and scaring them off worked very well because they will naturally take the known footpaths down off the side of the mountain even when you can't see any. In thsis case the path runs down over a rocky dry water course and down alongside a ravine.
Once over the railway line and past the blockhouse it was more deep muddy farm tracks through fields awash in water to get to the district road again. Like i said not a fun day at all and very difficult to enjoy your surroundings and teh historical significance of the place.

We finally arrived at Romansfontein sometime after 7pm and were warmly met by Stephani and her daughters who very kindly took our muddy and other dirty kit to get washed. There was hot freshly brewed filter coffee and rusks to see us through to dinner too.

Stephani is an angel when it comes to us Freedom Challenge lot and she made sure we all had a place to sleep, were fed fantastic food (Homemade bread, spiced lamb casserole with rice etc) and made sure we knew where to wash our bikes, ourselves and store our kit etc.

The warmest place to be was with the dogs hogging the little bit of space left in front of the farm AGA. Every other available space is dedicated to our wet muddy shoes and other kit that couldn't be tumble dried !!! Leaving those lovely ladies and their warm hospitality tommorrow morning is going to be especially difficult.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Day 8 & 9: Bloody Hell ! - Slaapkrantz to Vaalbank to Romansfontein

The last 2 days have not been fun at all, even though the landscapes have been breathtaking. We awoke to heavy rain, thunder & lightning @ Slaapkrantz & discovered that the day would begin with two massive portages - 15 odd km's of hiking up & over two bloody high mountains !

It took us 6 hours (6am start) to get up & over those mountains - all of them in the picture !!! The rain had turned everything to thick black sludge & we struggled no end to climb/descend along goat tracks with our bikes on our backs.

The mud was so thick that the wheels stopped turning every few metres, that's if you could even push the bike. Picking it up was impossible because of the extra weight. Conditions were treacherous to say the least & at one point the lightning struck the fence we were trying to get over, right on top of the first mountain.

(Gerrit ek het jou amper van bo daai berg gebel - My linker been is kas toe op die oomblik - knie en shin en met die mislike weer, modder, berg klim ens was dit net nag !!!)

So there we were @ 14:00pm @ the foot of the last decent with 70km's still to go with bikes that were no go because of the mud. Anyway we managed to find some water & clean them somewhat before heading off again. We got to Ressouw in another thunderstorm shortly after it got dark.

It was bitterly cold, wet & muddy & we were tired. We thought of asking the police for lodging in the cells, but decided to press on. A fall or two later in the dark we passed Moordernaarspoort an intermediate stop (bed only) if we wanted it. We didn't, with 45 odd km's still to go in the rain, mud & hilly darkness !

We never saw another farm after that, even when the lightning lit up the valleys around us. Anyway we arrived at the endpoint 'Vaalbank farm' @ 01:30 am, bloody cold, covered in mud and exhausted - a 19 hour day !!!

Today (09:30am start - pic above) wasn't much different - Morning rainstorm, hailed on, criss-crossed farm veld & fields covered in mud, got lost & tried to ride the mud.

The stiction (resistance between tyre & mud surface) was horrendous, only made worse by the strong headwinds. We had to pedal hard downhills to prevent ourselves from coming to a complete stop !

The bottom line is that today's stage was meant to be 132 km but we did only 55 km by 6pm. We decided to stop @ the intermediate stop @ Brostlea farm instead to recover a bit. Everything is wet, covered in mud and it's cold on the Freestate flats.

We're a day behind schedule but one can't always have great weather. Anyway sometimes when you're feeling miserable a hot shower & a cuppa tea is all you need to lift the spirits a bit.

Now all I need is for the lovely Doc Fletcher to straighten me out a bit, a physio/masseuse to work on those aching muscles, swollen knee, dislocated/relocated finger etc and for someone else to stick a smelly sock in Sean's snoring mouth !

Day 7: Freshly Frozen & On to Slaapkrantz

I think I found out where Woolworths buys their frozen produce from - It must be from around here. It was so cold this morning the fields were snow white & even the sheep still had white frost on their backs @ 8am ! My shoes are covered in frost from the grass too.

Myself, Sean, Erol & Estelle left Rhodes this morning @ 4am after only 4 hours of sleep so we could get to our afternoon mountain traverse with enough daylight to spare. No sense in sleeping on the moubtain now is there. Todays total distance was 108km. It was a sub zero morning - My drinking water tubes froze up, my shoes had ice on them & all the water pools alongside the road were frozen solid !

After the glorious warm days heading to Rhodes today was a severe shock to the system. I'm glad I didn't unpack my winter kit to save weight. I had more layers on than an Egyptian mummy today.

We got to Cheseny Wold around lunchtime and were warmly greeted with offers of food, glorious food. We were treated to home made crumpets & jam, muffins & a delicous breakfast @ Cheseny World Farm by Minki before heading on to Slaapkrantz.

The weather turned nasty over the Drakensberg this afternoon & we ended up donning our rain gear. Worse than that was having to pedal hard downhill to avoid being blown to a dead stop by the bitingly cold headwind that was howling straight at us.

Our portage today was up & over another mountain with a steep rocky decent to our destination in the valley 8km below. We went down on the left along a sheep track to pick up an old jeep track to get to the farm Slaapkrantz owned by Andre & Joyce far below.

A fair bit of bike carrying was required & I must confess that I've been in the wars lately with injuries. After climbing Lehanna's Pass my left knee is agonisingly sore today and my left shin is still swollen from my previous falls.

Well guess what - whilst carrying the bike down the mountainside a strong gust of wind blew me completely off balance on a particularly loose rocky section & I fell down the embankment. I tried to save the bike from damage by planting my head & shoulder on the rocks to break my fall & ended up dislocating a finger in the process ! I only realised this after my vision cleared & I tried to pick the bike up again.

I couldn't get the glove off because of the perculiar angle of the finger & I figured a broken finger should be hurting a whole lot more so I pulled the finger straight & it popped/cracked back into place. It was a relief because we were stuck up the side of a mountain 8km's from the nearest farm & what could I do ?

So now I can't ride properly because my left knee hurts badly with pedal pressure, I can't walk properly because my left shin is still swollen & sore & I can't grip the handlebars too good because my finger is bruised & a bit swollen from the dislocation & relocation !!!

Despite all this it was a stunning portage over the berg. 'Annie Jane' you would have gone gagga over the steep 6km jeep track decent !
In elk geval mense, ek is vrek moeg so ek gaan nou slaap...

Friday, June 19, 2009

Day 6: Lehanna !!! & Rhodes

I'm tired & just a little stiff - It was a short day, time & distance wise. We started @ 06:00am from Vuvu & got to the foot of the infamous Lehanna's Pass portage @ first light. It's a 4/5 km hike up & over the mountain behind the Naude's Nek Pass.

We were headed for the left edge of the flat topped portion in the centre of the main photograph. That point is approximately 1km above the point from where the picture was taken !!!

No words can adequately describe the exhausting, hair raising scramble up the side of a very high & sheer Drakensberg mountain carrying a backpack & a bike. The vertical ascent is 1 km over 4km.

The vista's are absolutely incredible. It took me just on 4 hrs to get to the top of the pass. We then headed down to Tenahead lodge for a cuppa before riding the last 30km's to Rhodes. And just for fun there's a 6/8 km climb along the way.

Anyway we got to Rhodes @ 14:00pm, had a quick lunch before cleaning the bikes, doing some maintenance, washing & repacking clothes into the backpack.

We're leaving Rhodes @ 04:00am for our sub zero 108km next stage. Yesterdays guys water froze in their waterbottles enroute ! I'm really knackered so I'm going to sleep now...

Day 5: In Gods Country - To Vuvu

Another long day today, but certainly one with the most dramatic scenery. We are truly riding in Gods country today. We left in the dark at around 05:30am in heavy mist & traveled along a mountain ridge & eventually joined a district road.

We left the road after climbing a few km's to do the Black Fountain route. First down a mountain to cross a river & then up & around a few more ridges on the other side. These are 'Drakensberg' type mountains, so they are monsterous. We traversed the top & then headed down to the Tinana Mission on the other side - about 20km's of stunning mountain riding ! We were up at about 1700m for most of it.

The last single track of the day took a long time with lots of navigation challenges. We again headed off the road into the mountains along cattle paths crossing 2 rivers several times for about 13km's whilst heading up a network of valleys.

It was tough going because in places the thatching grass was several feet tall or we had to cross semi plowed rural mielie fields next to the rivers.

Anyway it got dark when we were still several km's & right at the bottom of the river valley from Vuvu village where we're stayng tonight.
We climbed up a cliff to get a road that would take us to a cell mast right at the top of the mountain. It took us about 2 hours to get from the river where it got dark to the top and we got into Vuvu @ around 19:30pm.

It was a fantastic day of riding and tonight we are being put up by the villagers of Vuvu. Elainne has given up her accommodation so Sean & I have somewhere to sleep. As I said yesterday 'Mama Africa' will look after me...