An e-mail from Oom Abbey. “Start training boys – we are going into the mountains.” There it was.
That sent a shiver down my spine, conflicting emotions – a chance to spend a week in the magnificent wilderness where the sense of space and remoteness is almost overwhelming, a week of camaraderie and banter and a week of pain for those least prepared – like me.
“We are going to ride tracks in the Outeniquas, the Attakwasberge, the Gamkaberge, the Rooiberge and the Swartberge. We are going to climb and descend and climb again for four consecutive days and don’t think that you are going to see any roads this year. We are going cross-country – just like our ancestors did and baboons do now,” came the ominous threat from Evergreen Abbey. He seemed to be enjoying this.
“Abbey, baboons don’t even have bicycles,” I objected. “Exactly,” said Abbey, “Which just shows how much easier it will be for you.” ‘Slave-Driver’ Abbey has never been one to make or accept excuses.
The round-up started.
Kobus ‘Have Another’ Burger was in again, Ettienne ‘Clean Bike’ Soekoe was never going to miss out, Janneman ‘Hou Gou Vas’ van der Merwe paid his deposit, Doc Johan ‘Bossie’ Malan packed his toolbox and spare chain links, Wayne ‘Bonehead’ Rebello came out of his Knysna Forest, Trevor ‘Clear Weather Tomorrow’ Milton booked his pink ticket, Ben ‘Bench Press’ Paine put his weights down and Charles ‘Bike Whisperer’ van den Akker did a back-flip with excitement. I quietly also got my bike serviced.
We would again be mothered by Sanel ‘Just Hold the Steering Wheel’ Borman and the course would be scouted by Johan ‘Pink Wings’ Borman and Richard ‘Where Did I Leave My Shoes’ Muller.
Resignations were received from Johan ‘I Wasn’t Always This Big’ Piekaar and Malcolm ‘Don’t Wait for Me’ Anderson.
Johan ‘I Will Get Us a Bigger Trailer’ Borman insisted that we could bring more hapless souls on board and so the word went out to old and new Hell-Riders alike. We soon had positive news from Sir Richard ‘My Ancestors Come From a Long Line of Florists’ Hawkins. Ou Ett called his best mates Stephan ‘Hope It Is All Downhill’ Grobler, Pierre ‘As long As I Can Join the Buffels’ Klingbiel and Johan ‘Weed Eater’ Spies. The Wine Route brigade press-ganged Lawrence ‘Will it Make a Good Cartoon’ Chambers into boarding. The last late entry came from the world famous Koos ‘Have I Told You About My Last Race’ Basson.
Then came the forlorn message via Kobus ‘I Fix My Own Bike’ Burger, “Boys, boys. Janneman ‘Hou Gou Vas’ van der Merwe is sick. He is in hospital with falling out kidneys or something. He has even stopped eating biltong which means he is either on his deathbed or he has suddenly discovered English flower- growing ancestors like Sir Richard’s. Either way it is really bad.”
Our Whatsapp Group leapt into life with overwhelming sympathy and hearty encouragement.
“Janneman – if they have to cut your kidneys out you will have an unfair weight advantage,” complained Trevor.
“Janneman - if you get kidney failure may I have your share of the wine?” chimed the ever-reasonable Sir Richard.
“Janneman – if you die may I have your bike?” I asked quite cautiously. I didn’t want to alarm anyone. “I don’t need any of your other kit – it is very old and worn.”
Bossie offered to fly to Pretoria with some magic drops. “I did fix Ettienne ‘Please Don’t Remove My Glands’ Soekoe. And kidneys are easy,” he insisted.
“Boys, boys,” said ‘Kidney’ Janneman, “I will escape from this Michelin Man body long before they bring the machines – keep training, and Miles – I will ride my own bike.”
The day dawned. Cars and trailers and planes converged on the busy Borman household in the George. Greetings were exchanged, bike stands were unpacked, wheels were rolled out and the twenty-bike trailer was inspected, especially by ‘Clean Unchafed Bike’ Ettienne.
It didn’t work. The trailer was designed for road bikes - or pygmy bikes. It was not going to carry eighteen lusty South African style mountain bikes – especially if ‘Unchafed Bike’ Ettienne was in charge of the quality control. Johan ‘Everything Will Work Out’ Borman took stock, declared that the trailer still looked the part. It had very nice lifting sides with pneumatic struts. Besides which it was the biggest trailer in the whole of George – so would just have to work. ‘Evergreen’ Abbey waved his magic wand over all proceedings including the grumbling Ettienne ‘My Bike Is Special’ Soekoe, declared the trailer fit for purpose – just for fewer bikes, and we were on our way with overflow bikes loaded onto other small trailers.
We wound our way in various vehicles into the Ouiteniquas and Attekwas mountains. Wheels spun and banter died down. We needed to find a camp called Bonniedale before dark, meet Bossie there and prepare our bikes, bodies and minds. We lurched around hairpin bend after hairpin bend and eventually poked our noses out at quaint Bonniedale. Bikes were unpacked, even more maintenance and last minute preparation conducted
- tyres pumped, slime injected, chains lubed and even a handful of bikes rebuilt after being dismantled into bike bags from the flight from Joburg.
“So, Sir Richard the Florist, why is your bike in pieces inside this museum exhibit bag? Surely by now you know that there will always be pieces missing or left over when you try to reassemble it?”
“My bike is special. Even the bike shop said so,” explained our Knight of the Realm. “And besides, it is lighter when it is in pieces, so I have to pay less excess baggage fees on the aeroplane.”
“But Your Highness, the bag itself weighs tons. Your logic is flawed.”
“Nonsense,” explained His Eminence, “I explained to them that the bag is not even mine. I borrowed the bag and it is therefore exempt.”
“And Sir Richard of Greenhouse, why were there so many young boys running after you at the airport? Did they know that you were from Michaelhouse?”
“I am from Hilton. And they were returning all of my lost spares from the unzipped Camelbak I was dragging around,” explained Richard patiently, again.
With that settled, bikes fixed and bodies ready, we walked a way to the local farmhouse to watch the Mighty Japan pulverize the Proud Springboks. We stumbled back to supper and bed somewhat melancholy and angry, consoling ourselves that we at least had no Springboks in our midst and therefore might stand a chance of getting through the next day. The night sky revealed itself in all of its glory, released from the burden of competition from city lights.