2300km, but where to start?

As you can imagine, a 19day epic generates a fair amount of copy.


You can go right to the beginning of the whole ordeal, or the startline/day 1.

I'm looking at moving from a general ride report to a more up to date what's happening site. Yes, Freedom Challenge doesn't just finish in Paarl! When i get round to it, there'll be a PDF of the 19days reports.

Send some feedback (I'm aware that the whole layout is just, well kinda rubbish!)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Day 5 - Singletrack, Shoppping and Swelter

A constant lie on the trip that yesterday was the hard day and today was the easy one. It took 5 rounds of this charade before my game was up, but luckily I got to fool the gang with two things. Muesli with fresh(ok, long life) milk, and the promise of the 's' word. Nope; not sleep, soccer or Steers, but singletrack – the holy grail of mountain biking. Sure Rob had found a flowing section with infinite curves and banked corners the day before, but this was the real deal, Eselfontein.

First we had to get there, and our route was a yellow highlighter on the 1:50 000 map with some secret paths. We got going at first light and could see our break in the ridge to head to. Much stuffing around later and we finally took the easy obvious route there. On the way Damon did his Tumbleweed nickname some justice and wiped crossing a wet granite river rock slab. His bruised ribs turned out later in an x-ray to be fractured, but he was more worried about the crack in the phone(and the bike, 'Simone' was fine). Ceres is a special valley, sure it's got lots of juice factories, but where fruit farm meets mountain foothills it's quite something. Luckily this is the path we trod. Anyone ever heard of Lakenvlei dam? Didn't think so, but it is a large and dramatic sluice that holds a river back from it's path through the Hex River Mountains. We got to descend towards it and the smiles were on with some rocky jeep track and a compulsory bunny hop over a bunny shaped rock that came round a corner with all surviving.
Lakenvlei dam

A few debates about how to cross the valley aiming for the trees on the other side saw us holding a high line through the crops and coming to a slight fynbos portage. The farmer said it was cool, the wekkers thought we were crazy. On the other side the horizon revealed more of the same, another picturesque valley. We skirted along the treeline and followed the furrow to Hoogland packing sheds. Skipping past a few dams we finally got to the escaprment of sorts that looks down onto Ceres town itself, 20km in the distance. With Legend now chomping at the bit to get onto the trails we took some wrong turns but finally got onto a marked course, even if the arrows were backwards.

Deon Malherbe has been running mtb events on Eselfontein farm since 1992(he says), and has arguably the finest trails in the greater cape area. He builds them with a motorcross bike and they are spectacular to say the least. But don't just listen to me, go find more here www.eselfontein.co.za.

Freeze frame of awesome downhill


We had our trails chick leading the charge down, taking all the pretty lines and big drops. She inspected the big !Danger! drop, and rode it, full bag and all. The boys put their egos in their packs and walked. Squealing at the rear was Damon doing his best to avoid every rock and bump. Much swearing ensued, so much so that he skipped the dark forest section and waited for us under a tree at the farm gate.
Looking down to esels

If this trail route is adopted, you can guarantee this section will be a highlight.

With time ticking towards noon and still not near halfway we chose the boring route into town. What an experience, seeing a saturday morning Ceres with the usual boland mayhem. Sneakily the Spar is past all of this, and we did the big shop for the trip. Stocked up and all the cravings catered(fried chicken and soft serve from the Steers) we found a shady tree by the golf course to eat enough food so we could fit it all in.

Despite all the good its done for our sport, I'm not the biggest fan of the Cape Epic. I think it's overpriced and overhyped, but my viewpoint on mountain biking is biased since shifting from the XC routine of chasing a rear wheel up a hill and racing down the otherside. I prefer to stop at the peak and take in the view, pull out a camera and appreciate where my bike has brought me. Another bugbear is that while the Freedom Challenge has established 2300km of accessible route from KZN to Cape Town on one volunteer's passion, the Epic has not (to my knowledge)opened a single kilometer of trail for Joe Biker and me. Luckily I won't be able to say this for long.

There is but one way into Ceres from the Cape Town side, the Mitchell's Pass. It winds alongside the Breede, and its disused railtrack reminds of times gone by before major trucking. Since Epic 2010 spends 3 days in Ceres, the railtrack is to be cleared and swept. It'll be 15km of gradual rise mtbing with sweeping views. This helps our route greatly, but we chose to avoid the gadoonk gadoonk of the rickety rails till that time, so took the tar pass instead.

The approach into Wolsely had some townships skirting, and saturday afternoon might not be the best time to do it, judging by the sideways sloping pedestrians. Pulling into Demars fietswinkel to get our R10 trail permits for the Kluitjieskraal section, we had a fat chat with the tannie in the shade. She warned us of the bobbejane and tiere(baboons and tigers, later corrected to leopards).

Being another stinky hot day, the welcome relief of the shady pine forest was very needed. The intention was to actually ride up the pass to the plateau and descend down into waterval nature reserve via the Suurvlak plantation. It's a bit of a roundabout loop but spectacular. This is not really feasible with the proposed accomodation stops as this day would end up being way too long and tough. With this in mind(this is a test ride, remember) we skirted the base and took the red route split. It still climbs a bit up the foothills, and there was some moaning about this from the peleton.

Coming into the CapeNature section, we had our mind on the Nuwekloof pass option. We'd had a quick peek on the train trip in, and had two options. Scout the derelict old pass, which roughly follows the rail line. The new pass was built in 1965 and is probably 5km further(and on busy tar, which is naturally to be avoided at all costs!). The two are split by the Klein Berg River, share a thought for these water drops who end up in Veldrif. Just an hour earlier the ones we saw travel all the way to Witsands, 400km away.

The 'problem' with the old pass
With some casual discussion with Jan from opposite the Tulbagweg stasie and much peering over locked doors it appears the old pass is not accessible. By jumping some tracks and under a fence the much confirmed bridge is indeed no longer and a more creative way will have to be found through. Reluctantly we gave up and followed the tar, which gave us a solidly windy passage through the kloof.
The team heading up the path to Silwerfontein with a blustery voelvlei behind
(Being a sailor) I've spent many a weekend at Voelvlei, the wind blows there nonstop. From the moment we arrived till 18hours later and we were 10km away, it didn't stop. What's worse is that we probably could have sneaked a shortcut along the inlet furrow instead of doing the two sides of the triangle I had tracked. We did get to ride along one of the two damwalls, it's a massive body of water and is filled by the diverted Klein Berg, not having a natural river through it. It was a real grind into the block headwind, and quite a relief to pull up to the Silwerfontein farmhouse. It's a tastefully constructed Cape dutch building but only 16 years old, the yellowwood inside also a reminder of times gone by. We got all arrangements sorted with Kumie the organiser (and some cold cold water) and headed into the bluegum forest to our overnight stop, the much talked and debated double decker bus. That's exactly what it was, and is permanently there for their hiking trail. We had all ten beds to ourselves and got busy emptying all the emergency rations into the pots(being the last night). We had a visitor in one of the farm dogs and much debate ensued whether she should sleep in or out of the bus.
Legend and the hot buss

She survived outside, keeping the much vaunted snakes at bay.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Day 4 - contrasts

Today was always going to be the big one, die groot baas of the trip. By now noone takes my estimates seriously. Everything is either 3 or 20 km. Today was a thumbsuck of 90km. Thank the pope I actually chopped 30km off the end and moved the finish point from eselfontein to matroosberg nature reserve.

Jannie had shown us halfway up the jeep track around the back of the swartberg mountain. It was steep, rocky and a dicey call. I slept on it and decided to rather play it safe with so much more to come in the day, so we went the alternate route on farm roads to the south.

A now clockwork early start and grey skies got us to the tar R318 without fuss and we got the paceline going. A chance meeting along the way and we had hooked up with a cycling Dirk Uys,the owner of Nadini - another prospective stopover in the area. His wife coordinates functions at the nearby Matroosberg station, a restored white elephant with a rail tunnel below it that has escaped its earmarked demolition.

For the first time in days we had signal, a sign that the N1 and civilisation was near. Our crossing point on the great north road was Karoo1.com - another spot with some serious paint thrown at it recently. We were clearly not quite fitting in this 5star spot, but got down to the important discussion of how the hell we'd find a way down the waterfall/kloof that Smuts got his commando through with brits chasing him.

With coffee and full sunshine on the way, I turned down the first offer of breakfast. The second one we took with both hands, and got waited hand and foot for a good half hour. Quite possibly the best scrambled eggs I've ever had, the 2hours old oatso easy a distant memory.

The kloof itself was a bit of a no show in the end. Basically a three stage waterfall, the first two a tight scramble. This ended in a sheer 10m+ drop. Not gonna happen. It did however give view of a dramatic sheer cliff/amphitheatre. There's also a ridgeline across the valley that drops from higher but at a more agreeable angle.

The cliff could be a future option, with the correct equipment this bike abseil would be a feature highlight. The ridgeline was a gamble of an option with some possibly sketchy boulders. To do it unsighted with a bike on your shoulders was just a bit too irresponsible with plenty of kms still to go later.

So it was back to the tar, on the N1 too. Just like the brit troops we'd skirt the hex river mountains and would rejoin at the R46 junction. It flew by, with albino springbok, aquila Big 5 lodge and kleinstraat military base all on the way. It's big mountain country, with sheer faces and peaks all around

We left the tar to find our way up the verlorenvalley. Another stunning property, our second 1812 house. Being midday we ended up waking Tiekie the farmer, but got free hand in the cherry shed. Further up was a huge great dam and the perfect lunch stop. For once we couldn't quite find enough shady trees and gave the customary snooze a miss.

One hallmark of this area of ceres is the multitude of dams, you're never far from the view of water. Makes the nav easier too.

We explored a few interesting approaches to Erfdeel, our camping spot for the night, but ended up using the main dirt access after some bridgeless river crossings.

One of the bonuses of the trip was our resupply at this point. Travelling in isolated spots means you never come past a woolies. Apart from clearing out the tuckshop at Leeuwenboschfontein on day 3, we'd not seen a shop since the Laingsburg OK. Everything had been carried, and we'd cooked pasta, rice, couscous etc on an MSR stove.

Erfdeel is better known as Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve and includes two campsites and a lot of mountain tracks, including the cape ski club area, Waldo had arranged for a braai and breakfast pack from the local pick n pay for us. We felt like kings, with our (warm) coke and chips round the campfire.

We had done a lot of km, over 100, and had a long session. Our reward was the bed of the trip, a large collection of pine needles and oh so comfy.........

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Finished and klaar

Now for the pinotage

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sir mix it up

And no he didn't brush his teeth with fissan cream

Day 2 - the sahara ride

Being a democracy we let a late start dominate the general plan. This did make a bit of sense due to the late hour we came in, but the cooker was going when we got moving.

The general consensus was that our saddles were not as comfy as the previous day, but the scenery was great. Before we knew it, the scratchy bits started. We ignored the rifle signs and headed up the wagendrift valley, to get some water at the empty lodge. Another gem of a spot in the wildernis.

By now the mercury was surely in the 30's and shade is hard to find in these parts. Having a new GPS with the route loaded we followed some teething red herrings before correctly riding up a sandy dry river bed that went on and on. Some pushing and swearing finally got us onto the nicely graded main road.

Not for long as we took the sneaky unmarked north entrance route into Anysberg reserve. By now lunch was required in a shady spot and the famed mevrou fourie from klein spreutelfontein gave us a willow tree. We were expecting at least some coffee and maybe some beskuit but her legendary hospitable reputation seems to be something I read about on the internet.

ZZZZZZzzzzzzzz

Doing our best to escape the heat with a snooze, we finally realised that a swimming pool was only about 25km at the reserve camp. Unfortunately most of it was saaaandy. It takes skill to keep the bike going and don't put a foot down until you're about to fall over.

Even though it was 'just' 65km, camp was an awesome oasis. We had booked a cottage here, the big splurge of the trip. Main reason for this was that camping was 'fully booked'. In the end we shared the entire place with two ladies camping. Our cottage was actually being renovated as they were adding a third braai to go with the drum.

The big attraction here was the pool. It's an old reservoir with a deck, so we pretended like we had cold beer and did diameters.

Anysberg is an interesting place, it's only been a reserve for 10 years and the cottages are very nicely spruced up cottages. But karoo worker's cottages are made with corrugated roofs and they suffer from hotboxalitis. Not bringing tabard we were inbetween a rock and a hot place,with all the mozzies buzzing outside.

So that's how we ended up with fancy duvets under the stars....

Day 3 - the R&r day

Wow, the mood has shifted and early start is king! We set the alarm for 5 and woke to find it was already light, could even go earlier.

There was quite a bit of animal activity in the park,and bokkie spotting became the new sport. Only later could we see how different the reserve veld is to the bog standard bleak sheep farming scene.

For the first time we had a wide open vista and the view over the touwsrivier plain had us guessing the destination valley. Riding out the park, a first turn off the established trail onto our recce route was made at a spot auspiciously called brakputs. What looked like scarred river plain on google earth was actually green veld on the ground.

Confronted with the first electric fence, the hierarchy made chris try it out, luckily eskom was off. The next 30 km had a straight plod broken by one event. Just discussing a lunch plan a great red Massey Fergusen combine harvester rolled past at a good 30km/h. With glee we slipstreamed(and even held on at times) the next 10 clicks closer to home.

If you look hard enough you can find some gems in the karoo. Leeuwenboschfontein is one such place. Jannie, the owner, has developed it as a holiday farm and done an excellent job. He'd come through to see us about the trail and getting involved in it, so we had a bit of a grand tour.

Best swimming boating dam in ther karoo, and it has a little chalet too. Damon and I took a ride around the dam and up the kloof, so easy unloaded. We invented a new sport-jeep track racing. You each pick a lane and race to a point. Given a good combination of corners and dips it's a challenge of skill, speed and pure balls!

We had a hairy 4x4 ride to a possible route through the back of the imposing Swartberg which had us all nervously regaling our rocky riding skills. Then we went up an almost impossible track to a viewpoint. It must have been a 30' rock on a knife edge, and the faces around were whiter than squirt lube. We got a peak at the distant Matroosberg peak, where we we sleep behind tomorrow.

Another big highlight was that our stay coincided with the makadas overland tour and we shared the campsite. Mitzi puts on excellent races and this was a 4day ride taking in the best of the klein karoo. It was great to have bikers as campmates and a lot of free food came flowing our unsupported way. Sheesh we felt like kings, we even had wors to braai!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Long day but loving it

Thwarted in our attempt to emulate Smuts' commando by plunging down the kloof behind karoo1 we've spent way too much time on tar.

But the arrival in Ceres has brought us some farm roads and splendid views. Lunch by the dam and promise of a braai tonight.

Here's chris and mechanical #1- cross chaining is bad!

Rooinekke go round

Genl jan smuts got a commando including oxwagons down that kloof. The brits went around the mountain and never caught them.

We're going round too! Epic fail

Back in the real world

Sorry have had no reception for a while. Just crossed the N1 and getting breakfast here: www.karoo1.com

Should have connection till finish now, so expect updates till wellington on sunday

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Day1-the sneaky warmup hots up

Pics-
*legend jumps off the train
*game country

Due to there being no moon, instead of a 3:30 start in laingsburg, the local tannies were making koffie and beskuit for Egoli when we started down the R318.

MY word the packs were heavy. First day of any trip is hard, but having three days before the next resupply meant we were chockablock.I'd also filled up the fuel canister for my msr stove and the joggies couldn't believe someome could pay R2.40 to fill up a tank. Oh and I hit the local biltong plek too, with every game park mammal on the wall(excellent stuff, store is just on the bend).

Headwind - major bathos.we picked off the tar and came to decision 1.be boring and tar all the way, or take a detour past the floriskraal dam and down the buffelsrivierkloof to rejoin the tar later. This would definitely end with us riding in the dark, but we gamely took it.

Oh the immediate joy of rubber on dirt. The dam is quite impressively large for these dry parts. We started down the valley gorge through a farm only to hit a horse sized dobermann, apricot orchards in harvest and a private gate in quick succession. The third was a problem and we asked the skattie at the farmhouse what the story was.

Acess not a problem, but the road had been washed away and hadn't been used for a while. Over a few juicy apricots and a squelch squelch test walk we decided to head back. We had about 30 minutes of sun left and hadn't really come for night riding.

Back at the tar we got into dark mode and then hit some hilly terrain. Bombing down the rooinek pass with a handful of candlepowers was a good way to forget the asphalt.

We eventually pulled into rouxpos at 10ish a little bit over it all. The easy tar km had been gradient heavy and the packs were still teething the lower backs. (The owners were away at their son's wedding, but we had arranged to camp out on the lawn. And what a fine lawn it is,even the lord milner's is inadequate.

We wolfed down a pie and got the couscous blaring, only for chris to pull out a bottle of sherry. He'd sneaked in a birthday and it topped the celebration of just surviving the opening day.

Hic

Day1-the sneaky warmup hots up

Pics-
*legend jumps off the train
*game country

Due to there being no moon, instead of a 3:30 start in laingsburg, the local tannies were making koffie and beskuit for Egoli when we started down the R318.

MY word the packs were heavy. First day of any trip is hard, but having three days before the next resupply meant we were chockablock.I'd also filled up the fuel canister for my msr stove and the joggies couldn't believe someome could pay R2.40 to fill up a tank. Oh and I hit the local biltong plek too, with every game park mammal on the wall(excellent stuff, store is just on the bend).

Headwind - major bathos.we picked off the tar and came to decision 1.be boring and tar all the way, or take a detour past the floriskraal dam and down the buffelsrivierkloof to rejoin the tar later. This would definitely end with us riding in the dark, but we gamely took it.

Oh the immediate joy of rubber on dirt. The dam is quite impressively large for these dry parts. We started down the valley gorge through a farm only to hit a horse sized dobermann, apricot orchards in harvest and a private gate in quick succession. The third was a problem and we asked the skattie at the farmhouse what the story was.

Acess not a problem, but the road had been washed away and hadn't been used for a while. Over a few juicy apricots and a squelch squelch test walk we decided to head back. We had about 30 minutes of sun left and hadn't really come for night riding.

Back at the tar we got into dark mode and then hit some hilly terrain. Bombing down the rooinek pass with a handful of candlepowers was a good way to forget the asphalt.

We eventually pulled into rouxpos at 10ish a little bit over it all. The easy tar km had been gradient heavy and the packs were still teething the lower backs. (He owners were away at their son's wedding, but we had arranged to camp out on the lawn. And what a fine lawn it is,even the lord milner's is inadequate.

We wolfed down a pie and got the couscous blaring, only for chris to pull out a bottle of sherry. He'd sneaked in a birthday and it topped the celebration of just surviving the opening day.

Hic

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Africa rail travel

Having five in the party there was always bound to be a mishap on the way. Chris managed to lose the keys to his bike shed,so we pushed back to the slightly later train.

Damon was stressing over his fancy new merida 96 getting thrown into the cargo carriage. The rest of the stuff waiting on the platform went from stoves, couches, fridges and a few makro bikes. But the vast majority was the pepstore packing bags. Proper africa and she's going home for christmas.

One way to laingsburg is hundred bucks, and twenty five for the fiets, so it's not surprising that the train arrives when we're supposed to leave. We've basically lost 80 minutes,and could end up riding into the night to rouxpos.

We have three route options, 38/ 55/ 70km, the further we go the better the view. Being first day, and only resupplying three days later in ceres, we all have fully loaded packs.

Pics;
*Waiting for the train
*Our bikes in their own carriage

Monday, December 14, 2009

IMG00052-20091214-2329.jpg

Wow that's a lot of maps!we're using 1:50 000 maps,gps plotted track and just plain common sense following the sun west

testing testing

does my phone blog?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Anysberg West

on tuesday 15December 5 of us jump on a train to laingsburg.
We should arrive in wellington on 5 days later, trialling a new route for the freedom trail.

Unsupported, yippeeeeeee

hopefully updates here, plus live tracker to follow