Day 3. Redstone Hills to ?????. 58km. 2100m climbs. 6hrs 10min and 7hrs 20min.
We were up long before the sun and the chickens, but not before the lowing dairy cows who had called for their missing calves all night.
“Boys, it’s a good think that I took those few rest days,” informed ‘Kortpad’ Koos, “I couldn’t sleep all night with those cows.”
“I thought that noise was coming from your room,” commented Stephan ‘Neither Buffel Nor Wildebees’ Grobler, “Are you sure that it didn’t?”
“Right, pay attention!” commanded ‘Chairman’ Johan, “You have been a pretty pathetic lot when it comes to getting you all in one spot. This is the very first group photo opportunity. And remember – there are basically three climbs for the day, and then one ‘moerse’ downhill where at least one of you will probably die. Then you are finished for this year’s tour.”
“No Johan – there are four climbs today.” This came from Richard ‘Made From Biltong’ Muller, and was therefore very worrying.
“No Richard,” contradicted Johan ‘I’m In Charge Here’ Borman, “There are three. You can’t count the fourth because there is a track and it is the farmer’s driveway. And it is only eleven kilometres long.”
This was all very reassuring. We knew that it was a short day, but in some ways the most remote route of the tour.
“And once you get to the end of his driveway, you are into terrain where no man has ever cycled before. Well except for Richard ‘Voortrekker’ Muller and me, and we took four hours to scout just three kilometres of this section. Stay on the GPS track, do not deviate, or we will never see you again. Goodbye.”
This made us feel better than ever.
We lined up obediently to have our presence recorded and maybe also to show our loved ones if we didn’t make it back, and then set off at a brisk pace up the district road, teeth chattering with the cold as we snaked in between the cliff sides in the icy shade. We turned off at a run-down tobacco shed onto a stony never-used track and scratched and clambered our way up to much higher ground. Janneman ‘New Kidneys’ van der Merwe was nowhere to be seen, he had tucked in with the Real Hell Riders to show what he could do. The Buffels and Neither-Nors happily brought up the rear, arguing loudly for photo opportunities. It was going to be a long day.
We levelled out and sped up. And then the downhill again – almost a waste, flowers and vistas, mountains, stones, tracks, starting in the fynbos and sinking into the trees with six inch long white thorns. I instinctively flexed my fingers, thinking of Bossie and his impaling splint from the day before.
“Look at me!” celebrated Richard ‘Heidi’ Hawkins, “I can go so fast again now that I have brakes.”
We spilled out onto the district road and barreled along whilst watching the miniature farmers and their dinky toy implements work the lands. We soon reached brunch at the turn-off into the real wilderness and the first non-climb, according to ‘Superman’ Johan.
“So Wayne ‘Light-Duty’ Rebello is in trouble again,” gossiped Johan. “He snapped his saddle off and arrived here happier than usual.”
“So why is he in trouble?”
“He made the whole group wait for him while he fixed his saddle, and then sneakily outflanked them and set off ahead of them. He actually left them behind while they thought they were waiting for him.”
“Are you sure that it wasn’t Janneman ‘Groot Kak’ van der Merwe?” I asked. “That’s what he usually does.”
“Now boys,” intoned Johan the Optimist, “You will not see another human being for several hot arduous hours, and in fact maybe forever. There will be some scrubby mountain streams and small hot pools of water. Remember to fill your bottles up at these – or you will dehydrate and probably die. I will watch for vultures.”
We set off duly replenished.
“I am so glad that Richard ‘Voortrekker’ Muller taught us how to drink like a baboon,” mentioned Lawrence ‘I Prefer to Drink Wine’ Chambers.
Johan the Optimist was wrong and ‘Piece of Biltong’ Richard was right. The non-climb was not a non- climb. It was a rolling, winding, remote track, strangely well-manicured and marked with distance markers – the preserve of a wealthy perfectionist recluse. We enjoyed his passion for his hideaway, anonymous as it was. But a climb is a climb.
We found the scruffy non-track turn-off that Johan had expected us all to miss and lurched into the foothills of the Swartberge.
We alternated from vygies, to proteas, to fynbos and wound our way deeper and deeper into the space and vastness of the Klein Karroo. At times the track was so steep that we had to more pull our bikes up than push them. I thought about ‘Hopalong’ Spiesie with his broken leg and hip – but since he was ahead with the Real Hell Riders I didn’t think about him for long.
The temperature rose and we found our muddy streams. I happily drank from and dunked in them – Lawrence was surprised to find that it was water.
Every time we stopped we were assailed by horse flies which landed on our soft flesh to feast on something sweeter than zebras and mountain reedbuck.
“Why are you doing the gum-boot dance?” I asked Trevor ‘Restless Legs’ Milton.
“It comes from all of my years in Joburg,” he explained. “And Pierre, why are you running on the spot whilst relieving yourself?” I queried.
“I am very conscious of the semi-desert nature of my surroundings,” was the answer, “And besides which, these little things bite like hell.”
Richard ‘Biltong’ Muller stopped to pump his tyre. “Guys, this is how you do a gum-boot dance while you pump the wheel.” He didn’t really need to explain since his demonstration was explicit enough.
A herd of startled zebras galloped across in front of us, springboks grazed among the vast fields of flowers. One downhill led inevitably to an uphill. At one stage we crested a rise to be greeted by three ribbons of tracks curving off into the distance.
“Which one looks the steepest?” asked Ben ‘26er’ Paine, “Because I bet that they selected that one for us.”
And so it was. Always the steepest. The four climbs turned into five, and then six and then we lost count. The sun rose, the streams dried up and then there was Johan ‘David Livingstone’ Borman on top of a climb. He had hiked a veritable marathon to look for us.
“Hey boys! Where have you been all day. I was worried that you were lost.”
“How could we get lost Johan – we had Miles ‘Pathfinder’ Crisp with us with his trusty GPS, so we could never get lost. We just got a bit confused counting the climbs.”
And then there we were – at the edge of the world like Vikings. We paused to consider the options and dived off the plateau – no other words. We were doing handstands on our handlebars and our brakes screamed in protest. The track wound its way down what felt almost vertical at times, lined with spiky acacias and boulders and drop-offs. The adrenalin rose and pumped and we fell into the valley – five hundred metres in two and a half kilometres – just like that and it was over. Almost an anti-climax.
We found the Real Hell Riders eating and drinking in the restaurant.
“Welcome back at last,” from Kobus ‘Pass Me Another Slice of Pizza’ Burger, “How was that descent? You should have seen Janneman the Agile.”
“What did Janneman do?”
“Well first of all he rode properly today, unlike the Buffels, but then a little more specifically, on the downhill he dismounted right over the front of his handlebars and came sprinting and skidding past us. His bicycle even hit him on the back of the head. And he even said “Excuse me” as he came flying past.”
This didn’t surprise me in the least as I had seen Janneman perform this extraordinary feat once before many years before.
“And Bossie is still in his room washing out his throat after getting the Richard ‘Baboon Drinker’ Muller technique all wrong. He imbibed a lot of sand. He almost couldn’t finish his joke, the one that he started at the top of the hill, and finished twenty minutes later when we gathered at the bottom.”
“And Koos ‘Kortpad’ Basson is staying very close to a loo because he is assuming that the brown water was contaminated. He has never drank out of a stream before – special needs you know.”
And Stephan ‘I Wanna Go Home’ Grobler has gone to bed already so that he can wake up early for the Uber man at 4am – he accidentally booked the red-eye flight to Joburg.”
We showered, packed bikes onto the Hotdog Stand trailer, relaxed, talked, compared war stories and finally reported for dinner and prize-giving. I received the pink jersey from Kortpad Koos for no reason whatsoever. Janneman received the Man of the Match for his Lazarus-like recovery, and for impressing ‘Hek-Oom’ Abbey by riding with the Real Hell Riders on the last day.
Abbey was last seen showering Sanel ‘Never Again’ Borman with generous gifts to endear us to her – clearly intent on doing it all again next year.
Thank you to a special group of misfits;
- Johan and Sanel Borman (Satellite Trackers)
- Richard (Rigaard) Muller (Big Five – went all the way)
- Abbey de Groot (Big Five – went all the way)
- Cobus Burger (Big Five – went all the way)
- Johan (Bossie) Malan (Wildebeest)
- Ettienne Soekoe (Big Five – went all the way)
- Wayne Rebello (Wildebeest)
- Koos Basson (Wildebeest)
- Stephan Grobler (Neither-Nor)
- Johan Spies (Big Five – went all the way)
- Pierre Klingbiel (Neither-Nor)
- Trevor Milton (Buffel)
- Ben Paine (Buffel)
- Lawrence Chambers (Buffel)
- Charles van den Akker (Almost Big Five)
- Janneman van der Merwe (Buffel)
- Richard Hawkins (Wildebeest)
- Miles Crisp (Buffel)