This time we had 4 Capetonians and 3 Gautengers. Theunis decided to enter last minute, Derek completed the Beast before, Wimpie was having another go — and Ernest, Leonard and Mark were joining us from the north.
Like all previous editions of this ride, things started out well. Leaving Vrede at 9pm, it was a perfect night out, with just enough chill in the air. We effortlessly cycled into Wellington and had some support for our JHB riders just before town.
I’ve finished a course of antibiotics just three days before this ride, so was taking it very easy and holding back. The last thing you want is a heart attack. First prize safe home and just in time.
After 40kms we already had the first signature on our brevet cards and it was time to tackle Bainskloof pass. It was a slow ascent, but after the crest I was the first one down. The group split up, first momentarily and then permanently.
Wimpie and the three Gautengers went ahead, while Derek and I teamed up with Theunis. His neck was giving him problems and at the R43 T-junction he had to call it a day, turning left to return home via Wolseley and the Nuwekloof pass. However, this would not be the last we saw of Theunis.
Derek and I carried on down Slanghoek to Rawsonville. At the control point a police officer was having coffee and asked about our route. He was delighted to learn that we are taking the N1 through Worcester in stead of passing Avion Park, which is notoriously dangerous during the day, but even more so after dark.
Its funny how the same route we followed in April on the 600km event suddenly felt much shorter. Different mindset. We stopped for coffee in Robertson and went through Kogmanskloof and into Montagu while it was still dark outside. Daybreak came at the Akkerboom farm stall.
Derek’s wife Maria manned the safety vehicle and joined us for breakfast, talking shop with her friend Trish. Small world — Trish stays in a property at Suurbraak that belongs to architect Nic Louw, who accompanied us on the Tour de Boland earlier this year. In fact, he was the unofficial winner of the Tour, by begin first to arrive at the finish and order himself a beer. Good times.
The sun was shining and it was a perfect winters day out. We made a quick beer stop at Ronnies Sex Shop (with his healthy profit margin). Then onto Ladismith and into the Steers for an obligatory burger, where I met Daniel Schmeisser, who came back from the 36ONE MTB event that finished that day. He had bad luck with dislodged front brakes and Chris with a broken chain.
Huisrivier pass was spectacular yet again and we carried on to Calitzdorp, where we caught a sunset pic and filled our water bottles, while chatting to a friendly local, Mr Jan Barkhuizen.
As we left Calitzdorp I glanced at the cemetery to our left and remembered joking about our hopes lying here during the first attempt at this Cape 1000.
Darkness fell before we arrived in Oudtshoorn and we passed a couple of 36ONE riders before rolling into town, just in time for dinner at the Spur. By now eyes were badly infected and I struggled to see. Must have been the wind. No-one had eye drops and all three pharmacies were still closed.
In hindsight a catnap here would have been perfect. After the meal we carried on to the biggest climb over Robinson pass. Even before the real climbing started, we were going slower and slower (‘magie vol, ogies toe’) and stopped for a twenty minute catnap next to the side of the road. Twice. Just to test our immune systems in the cold.
Derek was first to reach the summit and the multiple long descents into Hartenbos was cold enough to keep us awake. I was slower going downhill than usual, battling to see in proper 3D with just one eye open, but caught him just before we arrived in Hartenbos.
Friday morning 3am, so we did 500km in 30 hours, with more than enough rest. We signed our cards at the Engen and met another bloke, David Kleynhans there. He did a kind of a DIY ride while texting his control point arrivals to Wimpie, if I understand correctly. Either way, I was surprised to find out from Maria that all the other riders are still sleeping at a house down the road.
Eyes wide shut
Derek and I settled in for a brief nap ourselves. When I woke the world didn’t make sense. It was still dark, because my eyes didn’t want to open. Literally, they were fused shut by some allergy of infection. I pried them open to see the sun was coming up. Crap.
Now we were chasing the clock. Within minutes we were back on the road. The pharmacies were still closed so we headed for Oudtshoorn.
It was a long, windy slog back up to Eight Bells and over Robinson pass. Clearly the second half of this Beast was going to be more effort than the first, with predicted headwinds all the way home. And a bit of rain.
A Volvo with CA number plates passed us, then turned around and stopped next to the road. It was Markus and mates, returning home after their 36ONE. Always nice to greet a friendly face while out riding.
Eye drops in Oudtshoorn, what a relief. Derek and I shared a melktert before heading for Calitzdorp. I noticed a slow puncture, but it was tubeless and still holding fine. Will deal with it at the next town.
This time Calitzdorp threw us a curve ball. The power was out. The ATM’s were down. Our bank cards were worthless. We filled our water bottles and I mended the slow puncture while Derek goofed around with the local kids, talking about tattoos and peacocks.
As we left town there was a local soccer match being played to the unmistakable sounds of Early B’s Potte — catchy tunes and great inspiration before tackling Huisrivier pass.
The two of us regrouped after Huisrivier and we saw that we’ve got a bit of work to do in order to make it to Ladismith in time. The 20kms from Zoar to Ladismith was dealt with at a steady 2 minutes per km, justifying many drinks at the Steers, where we saw David once more. The wind blew leaves all the way into the restrooms right at the back of the building and hinted at what lay ahead.
One standout feature of this ride was that, except for Wellington and Bainskloof, we visited each town or segment once during the day and once during the night and could fully appreciate the contrast each time.
We left Ladismith with cautious optimism, hoping the wind would have died down a bit by now. And I think it did, as the stretch to Ronnie and then Barrydale was much easier than expected. Zero cars, moonlit roads and lots of conversation.
Barrydale backpackers was a great spot for a nap and upon arrival we learned that Leonard had left shortly before and Ernest was still sleeping upstairs. My nap lasted exactly 29 minutes, as Maria walked in the door just as the MP3 stopped playing. Great timing.
Wet Wet Wet
We expected rain on the next stretch and the drops started falling as we approached Akkerboom farm stall. Rain jackets came out at the top of Op-de-Tradouws, just as the heavens opened up. The descent into Montagu was long and dark and wet.
Headlights from the two or three cars that approached us in the opposite direction temporarily blinded me, as light reflected from every single rain drop that accumulated on my sunglasses. Given the weather, I would not have been surprised to see Noah building another ark.
No shops were open at the time as we rolled through Montagu. There was a surprising amount of traffic through the roadworks sections in Kogmanskloof as people were on their way to work. This was the only part of the ride where I felt uneasy, as it was clear that other road users either felt nothing for a couple of cyclists in the rain or they didn’t see us at all.
The brief stop at the Ashton garage was probably unnecessary, but I think we were both quite relieved to have made it through Kogmanskloof unscathed. It was a rainy morning and we were looking forward to breakfast in Robertson. Onwards.
Spur did not disappoint. A lovely breakfast and fresh, dry kit before heading off into the rain again. The short climb between Robertson and Graham Beck yielded many trucks spraying us with water in passing.
Any way the wind blows
The wind to and beyond Worcester was ferocious, as if it tried to blow us back to the coast — the exact opposite of what Rob and I encountered during December 2016. At least we were dry by the time we hit the N1. A bridge over the now raging Breeriver played testament to the earlier rains and was a sign of things to come.
Two almost despondent cyclists rolled into the penultimate control point at Rawsonville. For a moment there it felt like we’ll never arrive here. But now the hard work was done and only Bainskloof remained.
Wimpie warned on the WhatsApp group that no-one should cross there at night. And Mark Shuter had to make a lengthy detour after taking the Slanghoek road and finding that bridge impossible to cross.
Derek and I left towards Goudiniweg and onto the R43. The next 10kms I operated on auto pilot. I was asleep but functional, pedaling in the yellow lane all the way till we reached the Slanghoek turn-off and saw the road-closure signage.
Déjà vu. I remember commenting to Theunis as we cycled through Wellington at the beginning of this ride about the improbability of this road being closed.
Low and behold, shortly after we turned left onto the R301, Theunis arrived to check if we were OK. In fact, we were better than OK, with only Bainskloof between us and the warmth of the finish line. The climb was spectacular, with raging rapids down below and many waterfalls up above. I’ve never seen so much water here. Darkness fell as we ascended.
Going down Bainskloof my front lights acted up. The spare battery-pack a different brand to the light and every time I went through a sketchy patch of road the connection failed, leaving me in the dark. The fix was relatively easy and on-the-fly, as it only required a gentle one-handed touch, plus Theunis was never far behind.
The last control at Wellington was a slow one. We could have comfortably finished under the psychological 3-day time limit but chatting friends and fellow riders was more important. Markus and Bernie also popped in to say hello.
We dispatched the last few kilometers with aplomb and arrived at the finish line in 72 hours and 40 minutes. A good result, given the weather. I learned that earlier we had no electricity on the farm (read: cable theft, this is Africa). But it was sorted when we got there.
Valerida had a fire going and Maria was sitting with a well-deserved glass of red wine. We shared beers and stories before going our separate ways. It’s great to have these events. We should do so more often.
Cheeky question — Is this the road equivalent of The Munga? Given that it is solo and unsupported compared to those heavenly race villages, it might just be. Try it and decide for yourself.
Ps, there aren’t many 24hr convenience stores in this part of the country, so depending on your speed and time of day you can very well find yourself without an opportunity to buy anything for the 250kms between Ashton and Oudtshoorn.
What worked. Or not.
The bicycle was brilliant. Loved it. My kit was perfect, except maybe for the gloves that aren’t really made for heavy downpour. And my riding partner was fun too. We do have a concertina effect going on whenever there are hills involved, but we’ve shared many miles over the years. Derek is cool, calm and collected and takes things in his stride.
On the flipside, my GPS fell and broke coming down to Barrydale within the first quarter of the ride. For a moment it felt like I was cycling blind to Scotland again. Fortunately, I know all the Western Cape routes quite intimately by now.
Special mention to Maria for running the safety car, all on her own. She deserves a medal more than us. And after this weekend without rest she had to get up at 4am the next morning to catch an early flight to JHB. Talk about dedication.
How much sleep? We managed 2x20mins before Robinson pass, plus 3½ hours in Hartenbos and those precious 29 minutes in Barrydale on the way back, for a total of under five hours. I should stick to more frequent but shorter naps. Even that quiet corner in the Ladismith Steers is perfect. And the recharge MP3 track that takes you to REM sleep and back within half an hour works, brilliantly.
Tour de Pharmacy
After many long rides, I think this list of seven basic items is pretty comprehensive for one’s potential needs on the road. Amuco to get rid of phlegm. Sinuclear to easy congestion. Eye drops so you can see. Cataflam for vitamin I(buprofen), anti-inflamatory. Immodium just in case. Myprodol if you must. And an immune booster can’t hurt.