“Who are we, where are we, why are we, what are we” – Muse
Day 1: George to Oudtshoorn via Old Montagu Pass 69 km, 1000 m ascent, 4h18
Keen to start my journey. Around the circle and up the road to the turn off not far away. Quickly onto dirt and then the uphill starts. A familiar theme for the rest of the week. The drizzle does not get much worse so I wind my way up and up the Montagu pass. Lost in the mist and in my thoughts. The incline steepens and the road narrows. I listen to trucks on the highway not far away. A ruin, now monument to previous forms of travel. I recognise the railway track from photos on Google Earth. It is too cold to stop for a coffee with Harold (that most dangerous creature: a clever sheep) so I push on and try to maintain a good pace while keeping my HR in check. (It was easy to get too excited I the first hour of riding of every day and have my effort go anaerobic) later in the day as I tired this was not really an issue as my effort stabilised with fatigue.
Google maps worked really well here to give me easy directions which were easy to follow by looking at my odometer on my GPS. Note: it would be useful to have the total mileage as a reference so that you don’t have to do constant addition. This was amazingly accurate. This and the Google Earth profile gave me a good idea of what lay ahead.
I arrive in the rainy ostrich and crocodile capital of SA and check directions with M who is singing praises of the Africa Inn cottage.
The final right had turn of the tar road and up the steep hill at the restaurant burns the legs. This is an awesome spot and we have already booked our return.
A hot bath and Concentrace gets me back to normal. Lunch is wolfed down.
We even manage a walk along the beautiful trails through the Klein Karroo scrub. I try to lighten my load as best I can thinking of tomorrow’s big day then dinner and bed.
‘Never let them see you cry’
Day 2: Oudtshoorn to de Hel via Otto du Plessis drive 90 km, 2190 m ascent, 7h40
I count km markers on the tar. An Anatolian sheep dog just sits under a bush and stairs as I pass his flock. I sneak past doubtful if I could out sprint this monster if he got defensive. I pass the restaurant at the start of the pass. In winter this could pass for Kleine Scheidegg in the Eiger Sanction. With a bit of imagination thrown in. The Swartberg Pass in all its glory.
A quick breather and I continue my upward quest. A couple of cars pass me only for me to pass them again while they take selfies and take their poodles for walkies. Over the top and I am in top gear actually overtaking some stunned Danes in a rental before I turn left.
Otto du Plessis drive is an understatement if there ever was one. The downs are some of the best riding I have done on a road. I am faster than the few cars. The ups are murder. The final descent should be on each cyclist’s bucket list. De Hel is an anomaly worthy of a Cohen ballad.
Mel does a great job of driving into middle earth. We check into ‘Die Stalletjie’ I lite the fire and get my kit ready for the next part of my trip. I am sure the steak will make Mr Middlekoop salivate.
Day 3: De Hel to Wagendrift Lodge via Die Leer 64 km, 1399 m ascent, 6h20
Five minutes later my feet are soaked, my HR skyrocketing and I am pushing my bike. Up the most brutal jeep track yet.
Rolled by a wild descent into a hidden gem of a valley at the end of the Gamkaskloof. I recognise Die Leer immediately.
(To do Die leer you will need to overnight at Boplaas and just confirm access arrangements. You will also need permission from Boschluyskloof) Bike shoes off and walking shoes on for the portage. 45 minutes later I found myself in succulent vegetation with great views into the valley below.
‘I crossed the line but nevermind’ Leonard Cohen
Down to the road and through the gate.
On to the top of the Seweweekspoort Pass. But that will have to be another trip.
After 4 hours of constant effort I have to stop and devour the tons of lunch. Viennas and rice never tasted so good.
The uphill is constant. I hit the tar and after 1 km turn left to Wagendrift Lodge. I chose to stay here as this was the furthest down this valley and would hopefully make the next day to desperate.
I snoozed for the afternoon interspersed with the usual bike and laundry chores.
‘Dance me to the end my love’ well almost Cohen
Day 4: Wagendrift Lodge to Montagu via Anysberg and Ouberg Pass 123 km, 1390 m ascent, 8h46
The forecast was pretty much spot on. I want to start early in order to get into the day before the rain hits.
30 km in and things are getting interesting. Waterproof jacket on and tucked into the most aero position I can to deal with the headwind which was my companion for the next 50 km. Type two fun for sure. But my day is a long way from being done.
Lunch was somewhere on the unrelenting jeep track.
Spitzkoppe is a welcome landmark. I struggle to hold 14km/h into the Moordenaars flakte. Aptly named.
The turn is left! My map, GPS argue that I have an endless uphill road leading RIGHT. Reluctantly I follow. The weather closes in and I have run out of water. The windpump teases as I can’t work out how to extract much needed liquid.
Raoul told me of a 30 km downhill. I am at 90 km now and about to disappear up into the clouds forever. Then just as suddenly I am flying down on a muddy roller coaster. It is far from a cruise as I get bogged down repeatedly but it is better than climbing.
I enter Montagu and leave a wet and muddy trail through every isle of the SPAR in search of sustenance. This is actually the only time on this trip that I reached out to the sugar gods for temporary salvation.
De Bos is familiar but under new management it is in serious need of repair.
I get into the shower half dressed in order to clean up and get warm.
The wall heater does overtime in order to get my bibs dry for tomorrow.
I decide my waterproof pants add a level of sophistication to my attempt to integrate into town living in search for supper. I wear them over my tights and they do the trick. A burger and beer is wolfed down.
I manage to boil some eggs. Hot cross buns, cheese and eggs turn into my breakfast for the next two days.
Day 5: Montagu to Greyton via McGregor: 78 km, 1322m ascent, 8h35
I leave at 7:30 and enjoy the tar through the Pass underneath Castles in the Sky. Further down I wonder why nobody has climbed those fins! Where are the rebel rousers? I guess it is just too easy to follow the crowd (or a line of bolts or the dotted line on the asphalt and never venture further).
Robertson and then I turn left at a bunch of horses. This is super pretty and my google maps directions are spot on. I bump into a farmer and some bikers prepping for the weekend’s MTB race.
I roll into Mc Gregor and almost get side tracked by advertising. A figure at the coffee shop stands up and puts me straight and shows me where the locals stop for post ride breakfast and coffee. A fantastic feast with a double black brew is put in front of me and I love the company.
A little heavier but happy I roll out of town like a lone traveller into the sunset. Up, up and more into the hills.
I do my best hiker impersonation and shoulder The Whippet and portage. This turns out to be far slower than I thought. The river was pretty but turned into the technical crux of the route.
I overnight at the Greyton Ecolodge. The craft beer and brand new (on the menu) burger is delicious. I can only recommend All-bar-non in town. Thanks for making me feel welcome.
I sleep like the dead.
Day 6: Greyton to Franschoek via Villiersdorp: 98 km 1672 m ascent, 6h38
Another breakfast of hot cross buns, cheese and boiled eggs barely gets me out the door. Tar and road construction forces me to detour. Finally I arrive at The Hill. I have been thinking of this for three years. 21% gradient turns out to be exactly that. Hard work with regular stops to manage fatigue. Down the other side and I almost get bogged down below the dam wall. Then more down at full speed to the Theewaterskloof Dam.
Coffee and braai lunch in Villiersdorp and tackle the Franschoek Pass.
A little later I take in the best view in the world (down the other side) before descending to Gedden’s shop. A bike wash is in order. And as suddenly as that my trip ends. Mel picks me up.
Thanks for M for your full support, to all friends for following and sending well wishes. Thanks to Mark and Liz Beard for your hospitality, Keith of Langeberg MTB and his lovely crew for breakfast and company. Thanks to all those before me for your inspiration.
Will I do it again? Well actually that was not the point. I went to find something, to explore and discover something about myself and a part of our province I did not know. Yes I will continue to explore but the next time will be different, it always is.