Karoo To Coast To Cape

Usually the best adventures happen on the spirit of the moment. When Chris texted me it took just a few minutes to plan a 750km mountain bike ride.

  • Are you riding Karoo to Coast? Yes.
  • Let’s cycle back afterwards. Ok.
  • Which route? The Cross Cape.
  • I need to be back by Wednesday.
  • Then we must leave straight after K2C.

That gave us 2½ days. Perfect.

Mia

I’ve seen this movie before, 3 years ago to be exact. After the birth of our first child (who refers to himself as ‘genius’) all sleeping patterns went a bit wayside and exercise completely out the door. Now it happened again. Our little princess was born first week of July and I haven’t done much exercise for the 3 months since then. This ride was going to be a real eye-opener.

Let’s not beat around the bush, I was terribly unfit. Other than friendly company and a willingness to keep going, there wasn’t much I could offer Chris. If it is time in the saddle he wanted, it is time in the saddle het got. And lots of it. Probably more than he bargained for.

Bachelors

Originally, we were going to be 4 riders for K2C. Cornelius was under the impression that it was going to be Niki’s bachelor’s event, so he went all out and bought a new MTB, completely psyched. But things change. Niki’s shoulder went click before the race and he was out (had a shoulder operation not too long before). Hannes also snapped his collarbone in Jonkershoek a couple of weeks before and he was out for the second consecutive year.

Pre: Struisbaai to Swellendam

K2C falls on a long weekend. Valerida and the kids were going to enjoy a family weekend in Struisbaai. I drove them there on Friday and we had a lovely braai the evening. I left in the wee hours of Saturday morning to cycle the 100kms from the tip of Africa through Bredasdorp to Swellendam, a very familiar stretch after many Audax rides. And I immediately remembered why I vouched not to cycle long stretches of tar on a mountain bike again – it just feels so slow.

In Swellendam I hopped into the bakkie with Dennis and grabbed a lift to Uniondale for the start of K2C the next morning. Uniondale was the usual hive of activity, however this felt like the most relaxed atmosphere I’ve ever enjoyed there – probably because it was the earliest we’ve arrived there in all these years. Eugene from Sedgefield helped with a quick rear brake bleed, while we got on with registration, beers, friendly faces and a pasta meal before retiring to an early night at the school.

Day 1: Uniondale to George

Among the 21 editions of the Karoo to Coast, this will surely rank as one of the most memorable. The weather was biblical. Fortunately, we had a dry start. Chris joined us on the morning and the three of us set off together. The first drops came down on the tar road in town, even before we hit the gravel. I followed Cornelius up the first hill before we got separated when he stopped to put on his jacket. Chris hung around before casually disappearing in the distance.

My ride didn’t go exactly as planned, as about half-way through, I looked down to find my chain dragging in on the gravel. The rear derailleur was buggered, without any tension. I hopped onto a passing police bakkie and looked for mobile phone reception to call ahead and find out whether there were shops open in town who could assist. After all, we still had to cycle back to Cape Town.

It took ages to navigate back to Knysna, and in town it was clear that all shops were closed as their respective owners were also taking part in the race. By now we’ve had thunder and hail and I was fortunate to find a chap under the roof of the Caltex garage opposite the finish line who could assist me with a temporary fix for the jockey. I just hoped it would make it all the way back home.

I greeted Niki and Essie and Shaun at the finish line while Chris was having a shower and then we strapped on our back-loaders and lights and made off towards George. Due to the weather, we left Knysna much later than planned.

We cycled around the lagoon and took the Phantom pass road through Rheenendal and the Seven passes road through Karatara towards George. It was dark and we go soaked along the way, but the forecast was looking great for the next two days.

At the road sign that said ‘6kms to George’ I’ve already depleted all my energy and was all to glad to arrive at the yellow arches of the McDonalds soon after. When trying to make payment I inserted my card upside down – a clear sign of fatigue. We booked accommodation in town and would start early the next morning. I must admit, this was a welcome break from the usual Audax-type lodgings, and I was sure to arrive home well rested.

Day 2: three new passes

I’ve never been up Montagu pass with a bicycle and the 5am start was bliss. Not a vehicle in sight and dead quiet around us. The gravel road was pristine and the pass itself is a stunner and deserves to be on your bucket list. After the summit we passed Herold and crossed the N9, before descending to Oudtshoorn for breakfast.

Next was the historic Route 62 in the form of the concrete ‘highway’ to Calitzdorp, running parallel but slightly longer than the current R62. Strava later said we clocked the 3rd best time on this Calitzdorp drag (including pit stop) – and by ‘we’ I mean Chris, because I distinctly remember sitting behind him at 30km/hr and thinking to myself ‘not bad for a couple of mountain bikes’.

After a familiar stop at the Calitzdorp Spar it was time for Rooiberg pass, this time in the opposite direction as what you’d encounter on the 36ONE. The surface wasn’t as smooth and the climb was a long one.

My partner in crime was having a nap in the sun at the top by the time I reached the summit at 800 meters above sea level, but what goes up must come down and the descent was amazing. My rear derailleur did its thing once more, but I fumbled around and got some tension into it again.

Next followed a long stretch to Van Wyksdorp, for a lazy late lunch at Spekboom. This was port country, but I opted for a beer. By now my bum was taking proper strain, not being used to the saddle. We set off on the R327 and soon it was dark again.

Our final climb for the day would be back over the Langeberge. The gravel road in getting there was pure bliss, as we were helped along with a nice cross/tailwind. Friend become foe as we turned onto the R323 to start the climb, now into the wind, but soon enough we were sheltered by the surrounding mountains.

Garcia’s pass from North to South is my kind of climb, with only a short ascent before at least twice as much descent into Riversdale. I’ve already booked a BNB while we were sitting at Van Wyksdorp and we were hoping to catch a restaurant before closing time. After checking in, the owner, Charles, was kind enough to take us there. Another great day in the saddle was followed by pizza, beer, a hot shower and crisp clean linen. Plus close on six hours of sleep. I could get used to this.

Day 3: the big one

Ever since we left Knysna there was some time to make up and this was the last day to make it happen. We left Riversdal and turned left to travel alongside the bottom slopes of the mountains, parallel but inland to the N2. The first climb was no worse than Helshoogte, but ever so quiet and a great way to start the day. We then descended into Heidelberg for breakfast, the last couple of kilometres on tar.

Next followed the stunning R322 farm road, travelling alongside first the Grootvadersbosch and then Buffeljags rivers. As we pedalled passed the Tradoupass on our right, the road became the familiar R324 of the DC, leading us through Suurbraak before travelling on the N2 for the last 10kms into Swellendam. I was very happy to get off the main road as this was National Heritage Day, braai day and the end of a long weekend, so the roads were busy.

Swellendam also signalled a trip to the pharmacy so I could offer my rear come TLC. Sudocrem and Cataflam did the trick and after a Wimpy Coke flat and fruit salad we were off again. We crossed the R60 and went on the old Swellendam road with endless rolling hills. The roads were vast and empty, but the wind picked up soon after.

Then left onto the familiar R317 that leads down to Stormsvlei, before passing the tree on the hill where we met Henri Meier during the 600km Audax that Eugene completed on a mountain bike. Déjà vu.

Just before Stormsvlei we turned right onto a gravel road that travelled between the foot of the mountains and the Sonderend river to, you guessed it, Riversonderend. It was around here that I realized again how well Chris knows the area and how many times he has travelled on these roads by bicycle before. That last 5kms into town was on the N2 again, but things were much calmer now in the late afternoon than it was this morning. We grabbed a Spur burger before heading for Greyton.

Cycling on the gravel R406 into the fading light was another highlight. We also made good time and arrived at the 1854 restaurant in Greyton earlier than expected. This was the last stop before home and we grabbed a late dinner. Some of the patrons questioned our sanity and suggested we sleep over at the old age home. But the night is often the best time to be riding your bicycle.

We set off into the cool stillness. Progress was leisurely. It took me quite a while to adjust to the saddle one last time. At least I sat down before Genadendal. Helderstroom prison arrived sooner than expected. And then the long slog up to the top of the R43 before Theewaterskloof.

Draaiberg road was a breeze. It was now early morning. Back on the R45 next to Theewaterskloof a Toyota double cab passed us and immediately stopped. Before I could figure out the number plate, Lourentius jumped out and shouted, ‘Nico’. He was on his way back home after a hunt and offered us a lift. I gracefully declined and we greeted him before our last climb, Franschhoek pass.

My rear derailleur acted up once more, now acting in sequence with its owner. I was as slow as ever going over that pass. Chris had a lie down while I inched towards the top. The descent was daring, with a howling crosswind shifting me across the road with the greatest of ease. We arrived in town around 3am. What a brilliant outing.

Summary

  • Before – 100km/800m
  • Day 1 – 135km/2500m
  • Day 2 – 240km/3000m
  • Day 3 – 285km/3600m

Not quite zero to hero, but 750 off-road kilometres with 10,000 meters of climbing is certainly a great way to push the reset button and start getting back into shape. Great ride, great company, highly recommended. Whether you fancy a ride to or from the K2C next year, keep this route in mind – Strava Night Ride MTB and KarooToCoastToCape.

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