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.