Breakfast was done. We lined up at the start knowing that the whole Baviaanspoort lay in front of us. Only Bossie, Richard and Wayne knew what to expect which was a good thing, otherwise we would have stayed in bed. The rain had disappeared and the sun’s rays were peeping over the rims of the mountains towering around us.
We were off. The road snaked and curved and lunged upwards and downwards. Time and again we experienced the illusion of a cliff wall in front of us and the road would cleverly dive into a narrow kloof and emerge on the other side all pleased with itself. We followed it and it showed us the way. We started to climb, gears clicked and clicked again and we found ourselves grinding away in ultra-granny gear. Ettienne declared that the slope was at times 18% which is apparently very steep. I didn’t need a measurement to tell me that.
We ducked around switchback after switchback, we sweated and swore. Every curve brought another cliff face and soon we Buffels were on our own, panting and heaving in the stark sunlight. Sanel and Johan squeezed past us – no doubt simply bored to tears from following cyclists who were barely moving. We watched the vehicles climbing the cliff faces in front of us and it was as if they would emerge in the clouds themselves.
“Who in the hell woke up one morning and decided to plot and build a road and a mountain pass here, from nowhere to nowhere?” I mused aloud.
“Someone with a wife,” panted Trevor, “who wanted a shorter route to the shops.”
“That is correct,” added Hou Gou Vas Janneman, “I can imagine the conversation. ‘You bring me to live in the gramadoelas and expect me to keep a nice house – well now you can jolly well build me a road’.” Janneman added the last piece with feeling, possibly also reflecting on his pump counting tendencies.
And then Bossie’s crank fell off. Not even he could climb those hills with just one stout leg. The Buffels gleefully crawled past the repair team, remembering to offer Bossie kind words of encouragement such as chain shortening advice and we expressed some degree of incredulity that the second most pampered bike on the tour had played such a cruel trick. Maybe Bossie had over-washed the damned thing? A professional call was made and it was decided to call for vehicle back-up. This was difficult since the bakkie with the spares was no longer the back-up vehicle, but was now the front-up vehicle. Ettienne set off in wild pursuit – finally getting the opportunity to flare his nostrils, open his lungs and burn, baby, burn. We watched with gratefulness as his short baobab legs pumped their way to the top. He was gone.
We Buffels realised that this was our chance to turn the tables upon the bicycle pamperers and we opened up – figuratively speaking. A wild-eyed Ettienne eventually came hurtling down the hill past us, resembling a Joburg tow-truck driver rushing to the scene of the break-down. The Buffels ground out the final couple of kilos and settled in with the remainder of the Racing Snake gang at a splendid view point. This gave us the opportunity to gaze down on our Racing Snake repair team as they eventually hauled us in. We waved, made appropriate gestures from the safety of our perch and waited for the reunion.
“So Bossie – maybe you should have fixed it better last night?”
“Or cleaned it a bit more?”
“Bossie maybe it is under strain because the chain is too long. Did you take a couple of links out?”
“So Bossie maybe it is the extra pies you have been eating since you moved to Hermanus?”
“So Bossie – I would also be feeling a bit cranky if you had painted me luminous green like your bike.”
We pedalled on until Richard stopped us to show us a derelict cableway slung over a yawning chasm. And then we hit the downhill. All those calories expended in getting to the top of the world were wasted in five minutes as we bounced, flew and screeched down hairpin after hairpin. I was vaguely aware that if any one of us missed the road or bounced off it we would need grappling hooks and carabiners to come and fetch the luckless adventurer. I slipped in behind “Hou Gou Vas” Janneman and witnessed his back wheel bounce a metre into the air and fly off to the right. He landed and was whipped into line again by his speed. We both screeched in wild laughter. We hung on grimly – feathering our brakes as the text book teaches, and then eventually just clamped them tight. The winding road spat us out across a stream, and then the familiar whistle – a puncture – this time “Clear Weather” Trevor. A sidewall cut.
Ettienne and Bossie bustled back to take charge of scene, elbowed all of our proffered spare tubes and puncture kits out of the way and took command.
“Superglue and an external patch will do just right,” intoned Bossie.
“I think we should just put a tube in and be done,” I offered – only to be ignored.
“Don’t scrape the wound Oom Abbey,” advised Ettienne, revealing his deep feelings about anything with two wheels and pedals.
Glue was produced, patches by the dozen and “Hou Gou Vas” was called to pump and count, pump and count. Soon the emergency tow-truck brigade declared their mission accomplished, dusted off their hands and knees, repacked the spare parts and charged off. I hung back with “Fair Weather” Trevor and we followed somewhat more gingerly. Within half a kilometre the tyre was flat. So much for the damned superglue.
We eventually caught up to the superior athletes with the non-punctures at a wondrous picnic site after some disturbingly deep and rocky river crossings. Johan and Sanel had the skottel fired up and boerewors rolls were the order of the day. We slaked our thirst with sweet fruit juice and eventually set off again – somewhat reluctantly.
I very gallantly stayed with Trevor and his leaky tyre and together we rode and pumped, rode and pumped. This was going to be a very long and lonely day – again. Johan the Great Destroyer had promised us that this was a relatively short seventy-five kilometre day – and we calculated that we had about thirty to go. A call was made to keep pumping – all the way to camp. Even Janneman and “Bench Press” Ben went ahead and abandoned their fellow Buffels. Our only other company was Malcolm as he puffed past us every time we stopped and pumped.
And then, like an oasis beckoning in the desert, we saw Johan and Sanel and our vehicle blinking in the sunlight. Help was nigh – maybe another spare wheel? They had paused at the boom to the entrance of the National Park. The wheel didn’t fit. And then the bombshell. We had calculated, based on advice from the Garden Route Middle Earth brigade, Johan and “Gimli Son of Gloin” Richard that we still had about fifteen kilos to go. Sanel let the cat out of the bag – “Just another thirty five kilos – you can do it.” Hell – that was going to take hours for the Semi-Buffels stopping and pumping. Tube time. Again. Repairs were effected, valve out, tube in and pump again – hopefully for the last time that day.
It worked. We should have done that in the first place – we should have directed Bossie to walk off into the bush and superglue some sticks and leaves together, or something, since he so desperately wanted to use his superglue.
We cheerfully agreed to leave Malcolm to his own devices, advising him to stay on the road and if he got into any trouble just to keep on riding, and we set off. Trevor and I powered off – the road was a steady upward incline, snaking between the cliff sides and darting in and out of magical kloofs and gorges. Mother Nature had carved great gorges out of the sidewalls and then buckled and folded them like origami. She had then covered her art with lush green foliage and bright orange lichen and sent a chaser of setting sun to cover this with dappled shadows and luminescent pockets of glowing rock. She chased the aches out of our tired bodies.
By the time we pulled up at our night time abode the Racing Snakes had made it home. They had showered and the bike pampering brigade had dismembered their steeds. They were sowing panic in the ranks.
“So who has any brake pads left at all? In fact Miles, I reckon that with having to slow down your Buffel-like body on the downhills you must be metal on metal.”
“My brakes are just fine thanks Bossie, and my chain is also just perfect,” I responded, only a little defensively. “How is your crank? I know that it is very clean – but does it work?”
“It is better than new after cannibalising parts from Abbey. Look at your brakes! Nothing left!” asserted Bossie.
Off came the wheel, out came the brake pads with an offer to replace them with second hand ones from Johan “I Wasn’t Always This Big” Piekaar.
“Oh look – actually they are fine. Must have been an optical illusion. Put them back – they will be fine.”
Dinner was eaten, a roaring fire was lit and we settled down for some good natured banter. The pink mampara outfit was produced and the debate over its winner was robustly conducted.
“So Johan and Gimli – today was 75km? Not. We measured 93km. And lunch was therefore at the one third mark, not the half way mark. That is actually a black mark.”
“And Sanel – what part of back-up vehicle did you not understand? You are the first back-up vehicle ever to win the race to the top of the mountain.” This was clearly a family affair.
I happily surrendered my stupid little fairy outfit and wings to Johan “I Can Break Anything” Borman. It was just a little disturbing to observe how pleased he seemed to receive it, and even more disturbing to realise just how inept he was at measuring distances.
The beds beckoned and we readily obliged.