Day 2. Calitzdorp Spa to Redstone Hills via Rooiberge. About 85km, about 2300m climbs – for some 4 to 7 hours depending on your status.
“Right, listen you Hell Riders – and you Buffels!” shouted Johan ‘Day 2 is Piss Easy’ Borman.”The main object for today is to see how many mini-groups you can splinter into, and how many kilometres the ‘Ever-Patient, Ever Present’ Sanel and I can do in the busses with the trailers to collect you from all over the Klein Karroo.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier if we just stayed together and enjoyed the camaraderie?” asked Lawrence ‘We Are Always Peaceful in the Cape” Chambers. You could see that he was new.
“Not at all,” explained Johan the Patient. “Today will feature a race to the top of the Rooiberge. I will be the judge from the comfort of the bus. I will carry water and half time oranges in the back of the bus so that you can minimize your load and optimize your performance. You will then turn off onto a tiny almost non-existent track and climb forever along the ridge of the Rooiberge.”
Then came the main point. “This ride has an age restriction. It is extremely unlikely, given my observation of the performance of the Buffels yesterday, that they will successfully complete this route. It is simply too hard and too far. Janneman will reverse roles, and he will be in charge of the Buffels since I have noticed that he is looking after them – not the other way around.”
He had more. “The Buffels will get to the look-out point at the big kloof, they will turn around and go back to Calitzdorp. Sanel and I will fetch you there.”
That was it. We were splitting up. No further questions. That was real leadership.
We rode out in high spirits – small side bets being made on who would crest the Rooiberg first.
“Koos didn’t ride yesterday, he is fresh – he should win,” from his loyal supporters Stephan and Pierre.
“They will let Abbey win just to make him feel as young as they are,” from Ben “I’m Younger Than I Look” Paine.
“Ettienne will kill them all,” quipped Trevor ‘Pass The Wine’ Milton.
“Our money is on Kobus,” explained ‘Dialysis’ Janneman and me. “He is back on his own bike with a brand new crank, his own special gear ratios, his Afrikaanse bloed and his super-charged arteries, his clean cycling-shoe inners and his extra-light ladies helmet.”
There were impressed murmurs of assent. The trailing Buffel peloton nodded sagely as they realized the extent of the advantage that Kobus had.
“And Kobus has never had polio, never broken his hip, never had Grave’s Disease, never had his back nerves cut and he has not had to wear those impressive shiny blue running shoes like Koos. Also Kobus is under fifty.”
We snaked up the pass – switchback after switchback. Our group stretched out – but never far enough not to pause and regroup for appreciated and convivial photo opportunities.
“I would have kept on riding flat out,” explained Pierre ‘I Don’t Want To Blow a Valve’ Klingbiel, “But I brought this camera especially and I promised my wife lots of photos.” No-one disagreed.
‘Hou Gou Vas’ Janneman and ‘Heidi’ Hawkins broke ranks from the Buffels and set off eager to earn proper Hell Rider stripes.
We arrived at the bus right on the crest of the pass – over six hundred meters of solid climbing behind us. We tried to appear quite uninterested in the drama that had presumably recently unfolded.
“So who won?”
“Kobus the Borrower won, with Ettienne ‘Clean Bike’ Soekoe on his tail.”
“Spiesie also gave it horns,” explained Koos ‘Blue Shoes’ Basson. “He has this sneaky way of looking back under his arm so that you won’t think that he is looking back to see how far you are behind him. But he is.” There was no fooling Koos.
The Real Hell Riders left – water topped up, fresh oranges, rested legs, and pecking order well established. We Buffels dawdled, took a few more photos, ate oranges, drank water and topped up. Johan and ‘Woodcutter’ Richard had made it feel like we were entering the set of Deliverance. We did not want to take any chances. We also set off in the knowledge that we would go as far as was comfortable and then turn back.
Our little track snaked upwards through the scrub and fynbos. There were loose stones and shale, scratchy sticks and just one hill after the next. There were views to the north, and then views to the south and the higher we climbed the grander the views. The Swartberge ranged to the north and the Gamkaberge and Outeniquas to the south. We were tiny specks on a massive canvas of nothingness, of space and remoteness. One second our senses could not take the vastness in, and then our senses were forced back to the track immediately in front of us – or we would be lying face down in the fynbos with thorns and rocks puncturing our pride and comfort.
And then it happened. We looked up to see what this noisy swishing and clattering was bearing down on us. It was cyclists – in the middle of nowhere. But whom?
It was Bossie! With Wayne ‘Knysna-Woodcutter’ Rebello, Koos ‘Shortcut’ Basson and Richard ‘Heidi’ Hawkins. They were on their way back. There must have been an accident – but then Doc Bossie would not have abandoned his patient. Maybe a mechanical?
The foursome drew themselves proudly up to full height and explained. The track was just too steep and stony and scratchy. They were tired and rattled and shaken. Well this was hardly Real Hell Rider behavior or attitude and these guys were too sleek and fast to ever be considered as Buffels. They left us, headed for home and the magnificent downhill of the Rooiberg Pass in reverse.
We said farewell very amicably – after all, who were we mere Buffels to judge? It became clear that another splinter group had formed – but what or who were they?
“They are the Wildebeeste,” I postulated. “Faster and sleeker than a Buffel, not a Hell Rider, but also not as big and strong as a Buffel. And a lot of foreigners cannot tell the difference between a Buffel and a Wildebeest – but we can because if we couldn’t we would have merged into one species by now”.
This found a lot of resonance amongst the real Buffels. We marveled at what had just happened – we now had anarchy, anybody riding anywhere, making up their own routes, forming breakaway units and generally causing mayhem. We just knew that we had witnessed a thing. We pressed on into the wilderness, climbing up stony slippery tracks all the while.
The views became more and more mind altering, and the hills and tracks leg and lung altering. We reached a beautiful spot with views all around, space to sit and eat our half-time oranges and reflect and soak it in.
We had a short debate about whether to press on further or whether to turn back as planned – except that it wasn’t a debate because that implies opposing views. We turned and headed back as one. The full extent of the insidious climb revealed itself as we now flew at speed downwards – the pedals just flew around as if they were self-propelled. This was what mountain biking should be about.
We reached the Rooiberg Pass road, regathered and flew down the hill. I was too afraid to look downwards at my device to see the speed. The noise of the wheels and the stones and the wind in my ears was deafening, and I could hear that someone was on my wheel. The hairpins came and I leaned into them as fast as I dared without sliding or slipping over the edge. There was no ‘Downhill’ Charles to set the pace – he was a Hell Rider today. The kilometres flew by and we were at the bottom. There was only one thing for it now – to head on the main road to Calitzdorp to eat and drink and make merry. A sort of off-day – light- duty.
“How far is it to Redstone Hills?” asked Pierre ‘We Cannot Wait Here Forever’ Klingbiel.
We thought that it was about twenty kilometers. Some of us decided that was quite far – Pierre and Stephan thought it was quite close.
We chewed up the kilometres, crossed the pretty bridge amongst the grapevines and wound our way to Die Dorpshuis. We settled down, got menus, chatted up the waitress in the most charming manner and ordered everything we could think of. We had bobotie, lamb curry, peri-peri chicken livers – all washed down with cold beer.
“We cannot wait for Johan and the bus,” explained Pierre. “We are going to Redstone by bicycle.” And so they did. So now we had yet another splinter group and after the event that had seen the ranks of the Real Hell Riders split asunder, we now had a great crack in the ranks of the Buffels. We had dubbed the Real Hell Rider defectors the Wildebeeste – but we were too busy eating and drinking to think of a definition of the latest division. Maybe they could just be Pierre and Stephan?
Johan ‘I Must Round Up My Boys’ Borman arrived. “Sheesh!” he exclaimed, “I should have put satellite collars on all of you.” His phone rang, it was The Real Hell Riders. They had reached the signal tower, Charles ‘Paparazzi’ van den Akker was so tired that his camera battery had died and they needed to be fetched at Zoar. But they would need two trailers because Ettienne ‘The Special One’ Soekoe did not want his bike scratched by the big hot-dog-stand trailer.
“Don’t move!” threatened Johan, “You all stay here until I get back. If one of you moves I will tell Sanel.”
We were very happy to obey Johan, even with such a lame threat – we did not want to cause any trouble for anyone, and our waitress seemed to be very tolerant. She plied us with second and third courses, a few more beers and we became fairly philosophical.
“Why do we always do these really hard rides that take all day?” asked Ben ‘They Grow Grapes Near Here’ Paine. “We always intersperse our Cape rides with wine farms and restaurants and those rides also sometimes take all day.”
“Exactly,” confirmed Trevor ‘Pass the Wine’ Milton, “And then our wives join us with the cars and drive us home too. It works very well – our cycling involves the whole family.”
“Yes,” added Lawrence ‘That Is Why I Left Joburg’ Chambers, “My fitness has never been better – we always do really long rides. Those cramps yesterday were just because of the altitude. I haven’t had a single cramp sitting here today.”
Janneman and I were getting the lowdown on a very different and attractive sounding lifestyle.
“We do much the same in Grahamstown,” explained Janneman ‘Half a Kidney’ van der Merwe, “But we have a lot of ticks if you go off road. We normally like to come straight home.”
They looked at me.
“I live in Joburg guys. I always feel lucky just to get home.” I ordered more peri-peri chicken livers and a beer.
Johan returned with the heroic Real Hell Riders, now decimated in number. Abbey the Evergreen, Richard the Woodcarver, Charles the Exhausted, Kobus the Borrower, Ettienne the Special One and Spiesie the Indestructible. We vacated our well-used table for our seniors, made some recommendations regarding the faire, introduced the waitress and explained to her that even though the Real Hell Riders were unlikely to be as nice as we were, she should nevertheless look after them in true Klein Karroo style.
The Real Hell Riders polished off every last morsel of bobotie which sent the more than middle-aged Dorpshuis proprietess into such a paroxysm of delight that she was indicating unusually direct offers of affection for Johan ‘Have You Met Sanel’ Borman. Johan quickly started loading bicycles.
The Wildebeeste had apparently cycled home to Redstone Hills, the Pierre/Stephan duo had followed suit – so now Johan ferried us home for the night, promising to return for the only proper athletes of the day. Redstone was delightful – converted labourer or trekboer cottages with bent roof poles and antique open hearths. We spread ourselves over the area and converged on the communal kitchen area where Sanel and Johan the Indefatigable were busily preparing dinner. The stories and recriminations started.
The Wildebeeste didn’t want to be Wildebeeste. They were outvoted – they became the Wildebeeste. We asked for the proper story from the Real Hell Riders.
“I saw a baboon rolling down the hill backwards where Ettienne was riding upwards,” declared Spiesie in an unusual spurt of loquaciousness. Spiesie usually expressed himself in his cycling as he mowed down swathes of fynbos with his gammy leg and extended pedal – the weed-eater. He was clearly impressed – either with Ettienne or with the baboon. He did not specify.
“So Kobus, what was with the blow-out? You flew over your handle bars and were very lucky to land in a fynbos which broke your fall,” commented Richard the Woodcutter.
“And Richard, you need to learn to carry more water. This thing of drinking water out of pools like one of those baboons is very off-putting,” added Abbey. “In Joburg our water is full of sewerage.”
“Kobus, you should have flattened that puff-adder, instead you screamed like a baby,” suggested Ettienne. “You put the rest of us at risk by not flattening it or not taking a puff-adder bite for the team. It was a very big puff adder and has probably never seen a bicycle before.”
“I don’t like puff adders,” explained Kobus. “The only time I ever screamed louder than today was for spiders. I don t like spiders either.”
Charles ‘I Don’t Like Porridge’ sucked at his additives and supplements.
“I saw at one stage that your eyes rolled backwards Charles,” commented Abbey, “When you were resting under that tree. I thought that you had died.”
“So did I,” whispered Charles.
“I am just sorry that I don’t have eleven pink jerseys for all of you light-duties who did not do today’s course justice. Johan and Richard spent a whole year finding that track, and you turn around and sit in the pub.” Abbey the Elder needed to vent. He had been on the cell phone on top of the mountain trying to close a large business deal which had clearly not gone his way. “We found this evidence of lack of effort on Buffel Miles’s bike – a full bottle of energy drink. He didn’t even need it. So Miles is a serious contender for the pink jersey.”
Abbey was in full impressive flight. “But the pink jersey goes to Trevor ‘Have Another Dop’ Milton for taking the most photos. Everyone knows that that is Papparazzi Charles’s job – but Trevor stopped even more often.” Abbey’s word was final and with that reprimand we all retired to get some rest so that we could do the course better justice the next day.