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.

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