Trick or treat
We were supposed to do this ride way back in May, but Covid-19 stuck a fork in that plan. With lockdown easing, we moved the date to Halloween 2020 (a precarious thought) and were set to start Friday morning 30 October (my mom’s birthday) at 5am.
Who was there? Ten of us, including the usual suspects and a few new faces, each with their own reasons and motivations – be it a test run for the Munga, the 36ONE, or just for fun. Derek stayed over the night before and the was enough pasta and red wine to start the engine.
Our previous version was a out-and-back route from Stellenbosch to Hartenbos and return, dubbed the Beast because it is one tough ride. This variant right here was conceived after Chris suggested we head North and maybe throw in Lambertsbaai. I cherish the fondest memories of the region, having been to primary school in Clanwilliam, so jumped on the idea.
The 1000 kms has a cut-off of 75 hours in total, but the pesky coronavirus threw a spanner in the works and we now had to navigate a midnight till 4am curfew. In theory that works a charm for slower guys, because we can regroup, and all start together the next morning. But since when do things go according to plan on long rides?
I carried the little minion-painted river rock along for his first bicycle ride (he is an ambitious little bugger). It’s a creation by Terry McEwan to remember her brother Robert, after he passed away at age 26. The idea quickly gathered momentum and now you see minion rocks on all 7 continents all across the globe.
How did I find out about Robrocks? My wife got me one after attending a class at Robert & Terry’s mom, Lyndsay McEwan from Lullubelle’s Bakes. Read the positive write-ups on goodthingsguy and network24 and check out their Instagram and facebook pages. Or contact Terry and get your own.
Here we go
We left Vrede in the dark, all excited as usual, riding together for the first 40-odd kilometers to Franschhoek. I sat next to Shawn as we spoke about how half of the group haven’t done such a long ride and then we meandered on what lies ahead and far off mountain bike possibilities around Baden.
Rolling into Franschhoek, there was no coffee stop at Scattered Ground and immediately we proceeded up Franschhoek pass. This was the only opportunity I had to chat with Ernest (who flew in from JHB to ride with us), as he moved from the latter to the former group. It was good catching up and I was glad he could make it.
The group quickly split into two – those who climb fast and those who do not. Now there were 6 in front (Chris, Shawn, Heinrich, Wimpie, Lolita & Ernest) and 4 at the back (Derek, Markus, Robert and myself).
Brisk 1st controls
After the climb we rolled along a 100% full Theewaterskloof dam (hard to think one could see ghost vineyards during the draught here not too long ago) and then left into Villiersdorp (at 72 kms). For the moment, conditions were perfect. I stopped at Spar for a quick bite, while making month-end payments and sending invoices from my phone, before catching up with the rest at the Caltex garage down the road.
The 4 of us chatted all the way towards Worcester, turning right at Aan-de-Doorns and again so onto Route 60 to Robertson. The wind picked up, but despite its best efforts we swiftly reached Graham Beck and then over the hill to the 2nd control point at Robertson (at 155 kms) for a Steers burger and milkshake.
After lunch we quickly Ashton (and crossed over the impressive new bridge over the Kogmanskloofrivier) and Route 60 became Route 62. Robrocks didn’t believe me when I told him the Cogmanskloof pass construction started over half a decade ago, but he marveled at the stunning rock formations as we went through the stop-and-go traffic controls.
There was a last croissant-and-yogurt stop in Montagu (183 kms done) at the Spar, as Touwsrivier was still 100 kms (and a hell-of-a-climb) away. We goofed around and saw a ‘dogs parking’ poster behind us, which was comical because we just heard a sound that resembled a ‘human barking’. From the rear.
The search for up
We set off on what would be a new stretch of road for many of our local riders and includes Burgers Pass (summit at 870 meters) and Rooihoogtepas, which peaks at an alluring 1234m. I’ve done this on the Tourdeboland and Weskustoer from years before, but then we started at 6am, not 3pm like today…
Just outside of town I recognized the Badensfontein private campsite that Shawn mentioned earlier this morning – apparently well worth it and you can even do a 180km MTB loop from there. Back to the task at hand. A gradual climb already started when we left Montagu, unnoticeable at first but undeniable later.
I was first to arrive at the Keisie Valley viewpoint (210 kms done) and that meant something must have happened to the others. I looked down the road for kilometers on end but couldn’t see the three musketeers – and in true Top Gear fashion, I carried on. After the summit there were still a couple of rollers before the looooong descent.
The kicker of the climb to the highest point was still looming in front, yet my bottles were near empty, and I searched for signs of life around a farmhouse to fill up. Friendly workers offered me access to a tap and probably still don’t believe me when I told them we’re cycling a 1000 kms in three days.
Just thereafter I found the shop at the only petrol pump around was still open and grabbed a cheeky Coke, because why not? Then Derek and Robert sped past me and when I eventually caught up, they informed me Markus had broken his cranks (wattage bazooka), returning to Robertson for a fix and will meet us in Ceres.
The last 400m up to 1234m was a cinch at sunset, compared to during midday heat. I snapped a compulsory Robrocks pic and waited for my mates, then we layered up and sped off for a fast 30 kms to the N1. Night fell before we turned right onto the national road for another 20 kms to Touwsrivier.
And where do you find a Randonneur? At the first stop in town. We’ve now cycled 283 kms and didn’t bother going on to Steers at the far side of Touwsrivier, rather gambling with pies on the floor of the BP truck stop.
Why I sat outside in the cold was a good question, maybe I was subconsciously acclimatizing, or maybe I was a tad buggered by now. Anyway, I learned of Robert’s failed battery and that Derek would stay with him, possibly returning the next morning to complete their ride. There was more than 700 kms left and I immediately knew this would include a lot of me-time.
Solo from here on
Just before I left a lady approached me and asked why we cycle at night. Easy – it’s safer, quieter and you are much more visible. Plus there are few things that compare to cycling alone under a full moon during an (almost-summers) evening. She approved and I rolled off into the night towards Ceres, 80 kms on.
After passing Aquila private game reserve, I saw the familiar lights of a Volvo XC90 approaching. It was Markus on his way to pick up our mates in Touwsrivier. His was the last car in a while and the road was so quiet that I could switch off my front light and just use the moon – special. I proceeded to the infamous T-junction and turned left to start climbing.
Did you know that Theronsberg pass takes you up to near-as-makes-no-difference the same height (over 1200 meters) as Rooihoogtepas? Earlier we pondered about going up the (slightly longer road) gravel climb of Bo-Swaarmoed instead (as they would on the Munga), but I’m glad I didn’t, as after the Theron’s crest there was a ferociously fast free-wheel towards Ceres as reward. Pure bliss.
I arrived in Ceres (364 kms done for the day) just before 2am. By now all the other riders were fast asleep in Tulbagh, which is another 30kms on. If I pushed on, I would deliberately be breaking curfew (a no-no) and realistically arrive there only half and hour before they would set off again, at a pace above my paygrade.
So, I took up Markus’ offer of sleeping on the couch of the guest house they booked, and it was the best sleep I would get all-ride-long. I set the alarm for 1hr but blissfully slept for 3½.
A brand-new Day Two
Shower & lube & apple & sandwich and I was off, after 6am. By now the front riders would be long gone, but I love going at my own pace. And what a start. The wind was kind, creating a Venturi tunnel down Michell’s pass and helping me to Tulbagh, through my favourite Nuwekloof pass, right to Gouda, alongside the windfarm, then Saron and into Porterville. That was 66 kms in the blink of an eye and time to take off some layers (and have a croissant & yogurt) in Porterville.
During the next 25kms worth of rolling hills to Piketberg it became clear that today was going to be a scorcher. I found our ever-willing safety vehicle drivers Bernie & Rob at the Spur and joined them for breakfast/brunch. This stop was longer then required but I might have been putting off going out into the now blazing sun.
Derek & Markus & Robert arrived just before I left and tempted me to join them for poolside beers at Dunn’s Castle (the planned stop for tonight, where they would be going directly now). I buggered off before that idea could root. 460 kms done and 550 kms to go.
From Piketberg we go North and then on a loop to Elandsbaai, Lambertsbaai, Clanwilliam and Citrusdal to the planned stop right back here at Piketberg. I was really looking forward to this and the first step was the 90 kms to coast at Elandsbaai. Ra was out in full force and I was happy about the 3rd water bottle on my frame. It didn’t take long before the heat made a statement.
From a mirage appeared the perfect Audax hotel (I think I was close to the Eendekuil road, where I did my first Landsdiens camp in primary school) – a single perfect concrete bus stop in the middle of nowhere is a sign like no other. I immediately pulled in for a 10-minute nap and felt like a new person when setting off again.
The afternoon road to Elandsbaai was filled with déjà vu moments from the Flèche and I took a pic of one of the many ‘rodding eye’ signs next to the road to WhatsApp to Rob in the UK. There was no mobile signal, so this only happened when I stopped for Coke & Cupcakes in Redelinghuys (which was a slight detour, but definitely worth it).
With roadworks along Verlorenvlei, I kept to the side. And then I passed an enormous puff adder, way too close for comfort – but neither of us were startled, probably equally affected by the heat.
There planned stop at Vensterklip was already closed, so I turned right and continued up the hill towards Leipoldtville – a road that I’ve never cycled before. It was a lovely late afternoon climb that revealed the ocean on my left, the vlei behind, and the massive irrigation circles on my right. Not bad at all.
The left turn at the iconic road sign to Lambertsbaai was into the wind, but after baking in the sun this was very welcome. About 40 kms down the road is was a special occasion the hear the waves crashing and see the sun dip into the ocean on my left, while the blue moon was rising on my right.
I thought Lambertsbaai (585 kms done) was likely the last place to get some food until we completed the loop back at Piketberg (another 160 kms) and used the opportunity to stock up well. The Atlantic Oil stop is usually 24hrs, but not with corona. I got there shortly before 8pm and was just in time. While having yet another garage pie, I learned that Wimpie was dehydrated and had to stop. Never easy. But safety first.
Into a Halloween night
It was pure bliss leaving for Clanwilliam and I’ve been looking forward to cycling this road for so long. Graafwater was exactly half-way there, and when I passed through there were braais and parties all around.
I remembered there would be some climbing from the ocean but forgot just how much. I pulled out a kit-kat with perfect timing just before an everlasting hill after Graafwater. There were almost no vehicles on the road and the one Toyota bakkie that approached, turned around to enquire if I was OK. People are friendly here.
After the crest I saw the town’s lights in the distance and started the rapid descent down to the Clanwiliam dam, across the Olifantsrivier and into town (650 kms done). It was midnight. The club was still open. I wanted to fill up my bottles there, but it was on the top floor and I didn’t want to leave my bicycle alone, so decided to go across the road to the police station. They wished me well and that was it. As I sat on their stoep, having a bite, I learned that Ernest also had to quit, and I felt for him. Our original 10 was now down to 4 riders.
Onwards. It was eerily quiet when passing the dam wall – no sounds other than the distant drone at the sluice down below. This new stretch of N7 is one that I’ve been wanting to cycle for ages and it probably has one of the widest shoulders anywhere in South Africa. But I was also so tired after a day in the sun that I was starting to fade. Never thought I’d be wanting for traffic, just to try and stay awake…
It had become counterproductive and I needed a nap. There was very little around, so I stopped next to the only gate I could find and lied down next to a snakeskin for a blissful nap. I woke up from the cold before my alarm could sound and knew I had to get going again.
It wasn’t fast, but it was progress. And then I saw the Caltex in front of Citrusdal was open. Bargain! My pre-dawn breakfast consisted of chicken strips and yogurt and this time I set off rejuvenated. Just as well, because dawn was breaking and I was about to ascend Piekenierskloofpas.
The climb went very well, certainly due to the unplanned pick-me-up-snack just before, combined with great childhood memories from the area. I noticed the baboon faced rock formation and looked down on the mountain resort.
The downhill went even better, even Strava thought so. And the last 40 kms on the dead straight road with a couple of rollers back to Piketberg was dealt with aplomb. Man, what a day.
Finish on Day Three
I hopped off the N7 and cut across the couple of meters of gravel to the Piketberg Spur (746 kms done) for a Coke float and decent breakfast, around 9am. Piet Viljoen snapped a pic and shared on the WhatsApp group and I am glad he did, because I’m lousy with same and mostly ignore it.
Now just over a quarter of the ride remained and the next stop was back to the coast at Velddrif, in sixty sunny kilometers from here. “This is it, Savage. This is it, Bossi.”
Leaving town, I had another Powerade at petrol station, just because. And when I came around the mountain behind Piketberg to start the descent to the flat road to the coast, I recognized Dunn’s Castle, our planned sleep stop for the night before. Well, that certainly didn’t work out as planned –
Which goes to argue that the best way to do these long rides is with no plan and no expectations (then anything in your favour becomes a bonus), everything you need with you on the bicycle and no reliance on a drop bag or such.
It was Sunday afternoon, with little to no shade. So, when I spotted a walled gate, it was too good to pass and I turned around to grab a quick nap in the tiny patch of shade behind it. This would be me reward for passing up Dunn’s Castle. But my brilliant idea was flawed in execution because a group of young soccer players walked by and tried to make polite conversation. Get up and go.
Velddrif (810 kms done) arrived easier than expected and I re-fueled at the OK store, sitting outside in the parking area with two local merchants selling their handmade goods. To some they seem like a nuisance, but next time they approach you to buy their work, consider that this how they provide for their loved ones. When I saw an older lady in a luxury sedan walk offer to hand them a tip, I considered whether the best way would be to buy something and pay it forward?
I snapped a pic of Robrocks on when crossing over the Bergrivier for the short stint from Velddrif to Vredenburg. But what an effort this measly 25 kms would prove to become. This was the hardest bit of the whole ride for me. At one stage I got off my bike and just walked for 20 paces. A friendly farmer in an Isuzu bakkie greeted me in passing. Fortunately, there was no shade, so I had to continue.
Arriving at the Vredenburg OK (832 kms done) in the late afternoon was a milestone, because from here we turned away from the coast to go back home. I stocked up well, expecting nothing else to be open till the end. Speaking of which, Chris & Heinrich was about to finish now.
It felt peaceful as I rolled onto the R45 towards Hopefield. After Langebaanweg the daylight started to fade, creating the most spectacular blue and pink backdrop for the crisp white wind farm turbines that stood in stark contrast on the foreground. This road also has a very wide shoulder, which is just as well, as people were returning home after the weekend.
A very good night
I turned left off the R45 towards to Moorreesburg just as night fell. The last time I cycled here was back in February (pre-covid), on the 300BRM with Chris & Richard. On that occasion we had a fast start, but I started to ease off considerably after the first 200 kms – and was hoping none of that would apply tonight.
Where’s the moon? For a moment I wondered whether I might encounter a bit of rain before the end, but then it emerged in front of me in spectacular fashion. Maybe it is a good thing you cannot accurately capture these moments in a picture and rather must come out here and experience them for yourself.
Last night was a blue moon, tonight it was a mesmerizing blood red. I forgot about the road and reached the wide-open double-lane-each-side entrance to Moorreesburg (904 kms done) in great spirit, albeit a little stiff. It was well after 8pm and by now Lolita had also finished.
Next stop was the penultimate control point at Wellington, less than 40 kms from the finish. There was a bit of faffing as I couldn’t make up my mind as to whether I should layer up or down, so it couldn’t have been either too hot or cold at this stage.
I crossed the N7 again and turned left onto the R311 to Riebeeck West & Riebeeck Kasteel. This road consisted of ups and downs rolling all the way into town, but you are rewarded with the smoothest of road surface once you reach the town.
Left turn for a fast section to Hermon. And right there I had to call it. It was just 25 kms to Wellington, but I knew I’d fall asleep on the bicycle before then and promptly pulled in to the familiar Hermon café stoep, where we laughed so much in the Tour de Boland this year. A 20 min nap should do the trick.
And it did. Wellington came and gone and the climb from the four-way stop to the top at Windmeul cellar felt great. I was on silent autopilot for the remainder through Klapmuts till the left turn at Joostenberg onto the silky smooth R304 for the 2km sprint to the finish at Vrede. In under 3 days.
Congratulations Robrocks, a beer well deserved.
This was the 8th time I’ve done a 1000km+ ride in one go, and I guess experience helps. With every outing you learn something new. It’s clear that my riding time is fairly constant, and that time is won or lost on activities off the bicycle.
And I still get tingly fingers (despite the fancy flat handlebar) and a sore bum, but that is to be expected and it goes away quickly.
Bike. The bicycle was perfect. It didn’t have the heavier gears so I couldn’t go into grind-mode, saving my knees. And despite not having top-speed-gearing, the Piekeniers descent was swift enough. The Diverge did have an annoying rattle from time-to-time, but its dependability was faultless. The 30/32c tires also did a great job of soaking up the bumps, while remaining fast enough.
GPS. The Garmin Etrex 20x was perfect for navigation (or should I say recording, as I know all these roads pretty well and never had to look at the purple line). It also depleted less than 4x 2000 mAh rechargeable batteries over the trip.
Zzzzz. I didn’t have enough sleep during the ride and would have been faster with more. But it’s always nice playing around and finding out more about how you respond to different circumstances. As far as I recall there was only the 3.5 hrs on the couch, plus around 20 mins next to the road each time before Eendekuil, Citrusdal and in Hermon. But when you are overly tired everything takes longer, even decisions.
Training? No training is not something to be proud of. But it happens. Before this 1k, my previous outing one a bicycle was almost 40 days before, when I cycled with Chris & Heinrich to Sedgefield. I’m certainly not promoting this approach, but it is entirely possible. And it’s not like I’ve just been lying on the couch – many daily push-ups helped a lot with composure on the bicycle.
Critters. Two things that stand out are the abundance of snakes on the road (as to be expected when going through areas where they’ve already started harvesting wheat) – and also in the Swartland, those blessed midges (without a buff you would have clogged up completely).
Finally, I liked having Robrocks onboard – he doesn’t say much, but he’s a great companion and will be joining us again. The little fellow is aero after all.
Till the next one.