We awoke when we woke. Bikes (except for Ettienne’s) required some final preparation. Doc Bossie had abandoned his pampered green machine and graciously accepted his upgrade from Oom Abbey. We gobbled our last breakfast together and assembled for roll-call. “Light Duty” Malcolm reported for duty and demonstrated his non-existent rear brakes. We rolled out past a pretty dam and engaged ultra-granny gear. “This Is My Helmet and I Will Wear If I Want To” Janneman charged ahead – finally bored with the company of the Buffels and “Thank You Sanel For the Wonderful Cooking” Johan stuttered his way into the Buffel Brigade.
We ground our way up the back of the Outeniquas, taking an old Voortrekker path, not used by anyone else since then. One false top led to another and finally we paused to gasp at the vista. The Klein Karoo on one side and Wilderness, the forests and even the glistening sea on the other. We were quite literally, in all senses, on top of the world. The track dipped down and with great concentration, weight behind our saddles, we lurched and bounced down the ancient rocky trail. We chose our lines very carefully – half expecting to fly over the handlebars at each unexpected drop-off. “Middle Earth” Richard had promised us a little technical section and he delivered.
Richard marshalled his troops with great aplomb and led us downwards, deeper and deeper into the marvels of the forests, first the carefully cultivated pine altitudes, then down into the mushy indigenous zones. We traversed foresters’ tracks and firebreaks and came swinging around the mountains on contour paths. Again the fynbos clutched at our hands and legs and we shouted and laughed our way downwards. We climbed tracks covered with thick wet grass, ploughed through muddy traps and clattered over rocks and roots.
Our bodies were tired, but our spirits soared. We finally spilled out into the Wilderness Big Tree car park to rendezvous with our vehicles and a new trailer.
“Now this is a proper trailer,” declared “Clean Bowel” Ettienne.
A very trendy group of tourist type lady cyclists, led by Superwoman in her flashy Stars and Stripes, complete with shiny foot warmers, came by to admire our general hardy appearance – no doubt unaware that we had just emerged from the forest at the end of an epic life-changing trip. A final spin past the big tree itself, with a front wheel pothole-pirouette by “Bring Another Burger” Kobus and a wheel-stand by Bossie, just to show that he wasn’t cross about retiring the Luminous Green Machine, and the bikes were packed. We piled into the bus and set off for the last farewells.
Johan, Richard and Sanel – now tired of catering and cooking, shepherded us into the finest little establishment in the whole world and we ordered burgers, fish, chips, calamari, steaks, vegetables, beers, wine, bread, ice cream and all manner of delicacies. Waiters and waitresses were despatched in relays to quench our thirst and satisfy our appetites.
The meal over, our fine band of men and one absolute lady started to disband. Bossie was collected by his wife, Wayne was within walking distance of his forest home. Ben suddenly realised that he had possibly failed to obtain an unconditional pink ticket for the event, and may have been expected home the previous day. Richard performed a final dive on the restaurant entrance ramp – just grateful not to fall in mud or a raging stream. Janneman remembered that he had to fetch his kids from school. Warm farewell greetings were exchanged, promises were made to do this all again – Ben with a 29er next time. The Gautengers headed off for the gorgeous hamlet of Glentana where we gratefully cleaned up and settled down for a final evening of camaraderie and storytelling. Richard bravely fetched his wife – to prove that he really had friends from Joburg.
One last sleep, listening to the waves pound the shores of our beautiful land, dreams of tortuous climbs, storms, flying adrenalin-filled descents, counting our pumps as we repaired our tortured tyres, laughter, sweat, heat and cold.
We are alive, we are well, we are strong, we have fellowship.