The Rob 1000km

And so we honored the inaugural Rob 1000km title ride with an abysmal zero success rate. But never a dull moment, this was an experience worth sharing.

Earlier that afternoon I bought myself a thick pair of ski-gloves thinking it would be sufficient to keep out the cold. Bar the fleece and rain jacket, the rest of my kit was all stock standard summer gear. Oh, what a lesson I was about to learn.

Start time was just after midnight, at 00:01 on Friday 14 June 2019. The riders gathered at Vrede and it looked like they were preparing for a robbery, dressed in masks and balaclava’s to counter the pending cold.

There were five of us this time round, each with a different motivation. Chris wanted to get in a last long ride before his #TCRNo7, Derek wanted the same for PBP, Markus and Bernie haven’t done the 1000 as the previous edition clashed with 36ONE and I was keen for a long ride before baby number two arrives.

Off we went into the night, on yet another memorable ride.

The first control was in Wellington and the Quick-shop at the Shell garage felt like a furnace on the inside. A signature and a banana later and we were good to go — but not before witnessing an alcohol-induced altercation between local farm workers. ‘Joumasepo&s!’, the inevitable crescendo. With ringing ears we ascended Bainskloof.

The descent was freezing. This isn’t an unnecessary hyperbole, as GPS readouts ranged from minus three to minus five. In fact, a graph afterwards showed that the night time temperatures were consistently between zero and minus three.

The second control was at Rawsonville at just under 100kms into the ride. The wind pierced through my shoes and I went ‘sakvoet’ — asking for two plastic bags at the Quick-shop to layer between my shoes and socks. It wasn’t as effective as I had hoped for.

There was a thick fog in the valley towards Worcester and while passing the traffic department on the R60 out of town, we made comments on potential crime in the area. Little did we know what was in store later that weekend.

We arrived in Robertson at daybreak, only to find our favorite 24hr coffee stop closed for renovations. There was another one on the far side of town and we promptly settled inside as happy customers. It was a hive of activity, being the only establishment open at this hour during the start-of-school-holidays-weekend.

Through Ashton and the majestic Cogmanskloof, where roadworks looked like it may be finalized relatively soon. We stopped in Montagu to layer down as the sun was out and the Wilde-honds-kloof-hoogte and Op-de-Tradouws pass climbs were about to start.

Conversation was flowing and Chris had some practical ideas on how to turn around the police force and educational system for a better South Africa. As we climbed higher, my responses were reduced to yes/no answers.

The Akkerboom farm stall at the top of the climb was closed for business and we flew down the pass onto the final stretch of Route 60 before the next control point. It was a lovely morning and we greeted many a farm worker on our way into town.

250km into the ride called for a late Breakfast Beer in Barrydale. I forgot to text Nic Louw this time, as we where in his valley again. The steep climb out of town signaled our arrival in the Klein Karoo and this would be the first time that I cycled passed Ronnies Sex Shop without stopping for a quick refreshment.

80kms later we arrived in Ladismith and stopped for a toasted cheese at the Steers. I checked my messages and learned that Derek, Markus & Bernie have had enough of the cold and turned back home. They would sleep in Montagu and cycle only during the warmth of day.

Our 00.00 start time was not ideal, for a couple of reasons. I struggle to sleep early at night so prefer to get going, as opposed to waiting around — in fact, my first thought when arriving at CP1 was that we should have been at CP2 by now. It also means that there was a good chance of not getting to Oudtshoorn in time for dinner.

Being a week away from the shortest day of the year, the cold of night would be upon us before we reach the next town, so we took the opportunity of having a 29min nap in Steers before leaving. Wide awake, good to go.

Pffft. Shortly after departing Ladsmith, Chris had his first puncture. And we only commented on how robust those Armadillo tires are moments before. Flat fixed, we continued into the night.

Just outside of Zoar we saw a commotion up the road. At first it looked like a road block, which would have made sense given that this was the start of the holidays, but on closer inspection revealed a dead horse in the middle of the road. Had we not stopped for the puncture moments before, it could have been us.

Huisrivier pass was a lovely and fast descent at night and the climb back up again was much easier than last month. It was a crisp wind still evening and close to full moon.

There are no 24hr facilities in Calitzdorp, but two restaurants were still open. We popped into the closest one for some warmth, coffee and an impromptu dinner of bangers and mash.

I remember a motivational text from Rob stating there was warmer weather to come, but having being conned by his predictions once before, I was cautious to accept it at face value. Indeed, tonight would be worse. But the next stop was just 50kms away.

Pffft. Again. 20kms before Oudtshoorn. Chris continued pedaling softly into town to fix the flat there. We stopped at the first open Quick-shop, but this time nothing about our stop was quick.

We grabbed another bite to eat. He replaced his inner tube, while I lay shivering on a pile of newspapers. As we were about the leave, that dreaded rear tire was flat yet again. Out came inner tube number three — we only had one left after this.

I bought five Wilson’s toffees before we left, thinking that chewing them would keep me awake. We set off for the final stretch to the half-way mark in Hartenbos, fully clothed in all our warm layers, despite the climb up Robinson pass in the distance.

Within an hour of leaving Oudtshoorn, I fell behind on a steady climb and saw Chris’ light in the distance, thinking he was waiting at the top (as the patient man have done many times before). Upon arriving I saw he was tending to the fourth puncture in the last 100kms.

The cold makes you lethargic and it took the two of us almost half an hour just to replace this one inner tube. But low and behold, we found a tiny piece of glass neatly hidden in the rubber.

While faffing around, I dropped one of those Wilson’s toffees that was stashed in my back pocket and supposed to be warm, but it promptly splintered into a couple of pieces when hitting the ground, as if frozen. Time to get going.

None of us mentioned it, but we both knew that we would hit the seemingly never-ending descent after Robinson pass right at the coldest part of night, just before daybreak. Desperate times called for desperate measures and I suggested we hide under the space blankets for a while.

We promptly turned towards the first visible property, which turned out to be Sonop Wildsboerdery, 4km from the summit. Thoughts of dogs and farmers with shotguns were not allowed, as we settled onto a concrete slab next to a garage, under the careful eye of a CCTV camera. After an hour I was still shivering under my space blanket, the latter to no avail.

The farmer, Giepie, casually made his appearance and asked what we were doing. He was clearly not phased by a couple of cyclists and we learned why inside the warmth of his house over a cup of coffee. He knows they guys from Dryland all too well as the Attakwas and 36ONE traverse his land.

Now the sun was out, but so was our wit, and it was clear that our Rob 1000km would be reduced to just 500kms. We arranged for a lift back from Oudtshoorn and returned there via bicycle to wait in front of the fireplace after breakfast at the Cafe de Move On.

Apologies Rob, but an adventure nonetheless. We’ll be back.

You never think it will happen to you

While waiting for my dad to arrive, I received a call from Derek. They have been help up at gun point just before Worcester. Bicycle and gear taken, but most importantly no-one was hurt.

It happened on that exact spot where Chris mentioned the possibility of something like this earlier on, at the roadworks opposite Zwelentemba. And worst of all, it happened in broad daylight, with other cars around.

We arranged to collect them in Worcester on our way back. Full house. And so, later that Sunday evening, all five of us returned in the same car back at Vrede — most certainly not the outcome we expected.

But that’s exactly it, especially with the long distances, you should never take something for granted. Fortunately we were all safely back home on Father’s Day and still had the Monday holiday to spend with our families.

Where does this leave us? New routes? Club rides? Larger groups? Safety cars? All of these can be exploited. It happens so fast. It’s a pity when you can’t even practice your hobby in peace.

Next time

What would I change for proper winter cycling?

The core wasn’t an issue as I had enough layers. It’s just admin to manage it all, with frequent on and off — often your outer gloves first and then the rest. But my extremities took a knock and that’s where the cold crept in.

Those ski gloves were insufficient as the wind easily pierced through during descents. Same goes for the shoes and my makeshift plastic bag inners. You need something completely windproof. Neoprene items aren’t up to the task. I’d also consider leg warmers. And a buff is non-negotiable.

Funny how we thought the weather during our previous ride was bad. Looking back, I’d take that rain and wind over this cold any day of the week.

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