Ride, the beloved countryComment on this story
Cape Town - Two friends. Two bikes. Three provinces. 900km. Half a gazillion cows. More mielies than you can shake a cob at. Oh, and just One Tent. Oh, and a disgruntled Her Indoors manning the fort manfully back home. The friends – Dave Moseley, aka Mac, and I – entered the Old Mutual joBerg2c, a nine-day mountain bike adventure from Jo’bog to Dirtbin. Well, from Heidelberg in Gauteng to Scott-burgh on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast. Each evening I e-mail Her Indoors about the day’s adventure.
D-Day minus one: Cape Town to Joburg, 1 500km
Re: Saving Private Rhino
Dear Her Indoors
As the plane made its way from Cape Town to OR Tambo, Mac and I discussed the rules of engagement. Firstly, what happens in the tent stays in the tent for all intents. Secondly, we’ll never remark about the “breathtaking vista” or the “stunning landscape”. Thirdly, we’re not doing this for charity. If we want people to sponsor us, I told Mac, we should do something we don’t like – like eat mayonnaise soup.
“What’s wrong with mayonnaise soup?” Mac spat. “Everything,” I spat back. Her Indoors, I know you may be inspired by our physical feats but under no circumstances are you to adopt an orphan rhino.
Day 1: Heidelberg to Frankfort, 117km
Re: Mad Mac
Dear Her Indoors
I couldn’t sleep. I made the mistake of reading a feature in Tread magazine about mountain bikers who have “returned from the brink”. They had all endured mountain bike mishaps. There was a mangled face, a broken neck and a handlebar through an abdomen. Am I going to survive these nine days intact? Despite the Tread dread, Mac and I left Heidelberg in good spirits. We pedalled along district roads and then wobbled over the world’s longest floating bridge across the Vaal River. Seven hours later, we pulled into Frankfort and stumbled into our tents where Mac and I discussed our race strategy: we survive from waterpoint to waterpoint. “We need to be strong enough to launch our attack on the 10th stage,” he explained.
That’s when I thought Mac had gone mad. “But it’s a nine-stage race. Are you suffering from altitude sickness?” It turns out the 10th stage is the bar at the Cutty Sark, the hotel at the end.
Day 2: Frankfort to Reitz, 93km
Re: Here’s the Skinny
Dear Her Indoors
The wind. The wind. The tent village popped and fizzed with phaaarrrrtts last night. The supplements riders take cause explosive flatulence. I bet the good people of Frankfort rename their town Frankfart when joBerg2c rolls in each year. I wasn’t sure if I should put my earplugs in my ears or nose but decided on my ears when our tent neighbour got into full snoring mode. Put it this way: he could be A Snorbok at the Snoring Olympics. Last night was a cacophony of snoring and a kak-ophony of farts.
The best thing ever happened at breakfast. A tannie scooped oats into my bowl. I thanked her and began to move on. “What? So little?” It was half a bowl. Then she said the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. “We aren’t used to skinny guys like you.” Skinny guys like me?
That’s it. We’re moving to Frankfort. We started our 91km journey with a chill factor of -2ºC. “We really are in the Freeze State,” I told Mac. He growled. But I know you’re really impressed that I can make puns in sub-zero glacial conditions.
Day 3: Reitz to Sterkfontein Dam, 130km
Re: The waterpoint at the end of the world
Dear Her Indoors
Trust you to Google “Things to do in Frankfort”. I’m sure the internet was just joking when it threw up “We are unable to find results matching your search criteria”. I’m still putting “Skinniest Guy in Frankfort” on my CV.
We left Reitz, which has one of the largest maize silos in the southern hemisphere, and made our way to Sterkfontein Dam. The first sticky bit to negotiate was Hansie’s. Is it a reference to our former cricket skipper, I wondered.
“Be careful in Hansie’s,” I warned Mac. “If you get your line and length wrong you’ll end up with a leg break, especially when riding in the corridor of uncertainty.” Mac groaned. “Don’t worry,” I told him, “I’ll make sure you get picked up by the sweeper.”
“You’re a fool, tosser,” he said.
It turns out Hansie is the owner of a farm we crossed.
We headed down long stretches of rural roads until waterpoint two. “Just one more waterpoint and then #HomeJerome,” said Mac who actually made a hashtag sign. But waterpoint three was like chasing a rainbow – it never arrived.
Mile after mile. Mielie after mielie. Mielie mile after mielie mile. Mielie mile after Mielie meal. I was all mielie papped out and heading into a dark space. I needed a distraction before I unravelled. I turned to the one thing I do best: puns.
“These mielies are stalking me,” I told Mac. “Look over there,” I said pointing to a stray cob, “it’s a uni-corn.” Mac whimpered, but I persisted. “If I’d gone to the army I’d have been a kernel.”
Mac started to hyperventilate.
“What’s the matter, Mac, do my hard-pore corn puns not amaize you?”
“Your! Puns! Are! So! Corny!” he barked.
“Corny, brilliant.” Mac shot me a menacing look. Fortunately, my life was saved as waterpoint three came into view. From there it was a singletrack climb up Mount Paul and a flowing, single-track descent. We just had a 5km finish along the Sterkfontein Dam wall and – you’ll be so proud of me – I only said “damn dam wall” once.
Day 4: Sterkfontein to Winteron, 121km
Re: Our year of meat (in three days)
Dear Her Indoors
I woke up with a bleeding nose and cracked lips and coughed up dustballs. Each day we record a list of our ailing body parts. Left wrist. Right shin. Butt checks (left & right). Knees (right & left). Soon it will be easier to list the parts that don’t hurt and by Day 9 it might just be “left eyebrow”. Despite our ailments we were in a good mood at the start. However, about 1km later I see Mac is looking somewhat greenish.
I looked him up and down and delivered my diagnosis: “You’ve eaten too much meat.”
I don’t blame him. There is a Babette’s Feast at every waterpoint – kebabs, tender steak strips, condensed-milk-coated marshmallows, burgers, mielie brood, eggs, potatoes, koeksusters, doughnuts, cashews, fried chicken, biltong, chocolates and boerewors rolls. We knew we’d be getting a lot of meat – after all, the ride started at Karan Beef Feedlot and there’s been a lot at, er, steak ever since. It’s been a meat frenzy.
But Mac offered a second opinion. “I think your puns are making me ill.” We made an agreement: he stays away from meat, I stay away from puns.
Mac cheered up as we left the Free State (going over trails the Vootrekkers rode with their horses) and our adventure turned into a sublime ride as we dropped down the escarpment and into KwaZulu-Natal.
Sollie’s Folley – a treacherous descent – was special. If I wasn’t holding onto the handlebars I’d have given Tread editor Sean Badenhorst a standing ovation for his mountain bike skills course. Thanks to his three laws of mountain biking – momentum, look where you want to go and lower your centre of gravity – I sailed down the descents and flowed down the single-tracks.
Day 5: Winterton to Kamberg, 97km
Re: Help! I need somebody!
Dear Her Indoors
Tired. Sore. Fetch me.
Day 6: Kamberg to Hazeldean Farm, 89km
Re: True story, bro
Dear Her Indoors
Did you have to reply to yesterday’s message with a ? I was in the hurt box. But sleep and beer (not in that order) made everything okay. We rode today’s stage like a boss. Riders tell each other that J2C is “proper” mountain biking. What is improper mountain biking? I guess in the Free State it’s riding with a pink bra and G-string over your Lycra – that’s how one J2C rider has taken on the adventure. He’s on an extended bachelor party. A lot of sayings have crept into J2C parlance. Two Durban boykies in a nearby tent say: “True story, bro” after every sentence. “I’m going to the loo. True story, bro.”
Mac and I have our own slogan, which is: It is what it is. The loo queues, the sore butts, the freezing starts, the snoring, and even the “True story, bro” dudes – well, it is what it is. The riding is magical, the atmosphere is warm, and the good humour flows – and the is-what-it-is stuff is just another aspect of the adventure, just something that has to be tolerated. Like our daily butt cream ritual. Each morning we slap chamois cream on our saddle-weary butts, which when you share a tent can be a little, er, compromising. This morning we bent over at the same time and our butts touched. Now I know what it means to be moonstruck. I had a giggle when a rider was called on to stage for being declared the “Tool of the Day”. He’d brushed his teeth with chamois cream and put toothpaste on his bum. That’s proper funny! #TrueStory,bro.
Day 7: Hazeldean Farm to Mackenzie Club, 78.4km
Re: Breaking backs
Hi Her Indoors
We’ve broken J2C’s back. Today, it nearly broke Mac’s back. We headed down single-track that was smoother than a sheet of glass yet Mac somehow managed to crash. When I found him he was on his back, blood gushing from his elbow, groaning, “My bike, my bike.” I heard him tell someone I’d pushed him off his bike. Despite Mac’s fall from grace, we experienced single-track ecstasy, making this one of the most memorable days of mountain biking ever.
Day 8: MacKenzie to Jolivet, 104km (was meant to be 99km but we got lost #truestory,bro)
Re: Something, The Beloved Country
We’ve had Alan Paton’s Cry, The Beloved Country, and Heritage Day’s Braai, The Beloved Country. Now we have joBerg2c’s Ride, The Beloved Country. Paton lovers will know the great Umkomaas features in his brilliant book; it’s also a major feature of J2C’s Day 8.
The route in a nutshell: 50km drop, 50km climb. We hurtled down single-track along old cattle paths and, after some switchback descents, started to drop down to the Umko River. Every inch we dropped meant another inch we had to climb back out of the valley.
We eventually landed on the banks of the mighty Umkomaas, which means “the place of cow whales” in Zulu. Whales once used the estuary as a nursery, giving birth in the shallows. This is as close to the middle of nowhere as one can get – and gave us a real sense that we are indeed riding the beloved country.
And then it was time to climb. The joBerg2c sections have great names like Great Wall My China and Puff Udder, but my favourite is the climb out of the Umkomaas – Push of a Climb. In Cape Town it would be renamed, Jou Ma se Push.
Day 9: Jolivet to Scott-burgh, 80km
Re: It ends with a splash
Dear Her Indoors
One minute I was on the start line at Jolivet and the next I was gasping for air in the Scottburgh lagoon. What happened in the four hours in between is a mystery. Nevertheless, it’s all over. It’s been a heart-thumping, lung-bursting, eyeball-popping, jaw-dropping, teeth-shattering, ball-crunching, butt-bruising, hair-raising, bone-rattling, body-shaking adventure… and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Let’s face it: there’s no better way to see South Africa than on a mountain bike.
We’ve been treated to nature reserves, rural villages, farms, wolves, the edge of the escarpment, fast-flowing rivers, mielies, cows, bouncy single-track, lush river valleys, dry Highveld terrain, rugged mountains and (forgive me, Mac) breathtaking vistas.
At the Cutty Sark, Mac and I replayed the nine days and revelled in our glory. We did it. It’s the kind of achievement that makes you walk a little taller, that makes you less aggressive when a roadhog cuts in front of you, and makes you appreciate life just that much more.
Mac and I clinked beers. “What are you looking forward to most when you wake up tomorrow?” he asked, “The knowledge that you faced the dragon and killed it or the fact you travelled using our own leg-power from Gauteng to KwaZulu-Natal?”
I shook my head. “All of that is great, but what I’m looking forward to the most is NOT waking up a centimetre away from your backside as you apply a generous coating of chamois cream. #TrueStory,bro.” - Weekend Argus