Johannesburg - I am an engineer-turned-farmer and live in the paradise of the Groot Marico. My daughter Bianca is a doctor and we are avid mountain bikers. We came up with the idea of an endurance ride (but at the same time a touring trip) last year, when we rode from Groot Marico to Groot Drink in the Northern Cape.
It’s not difficult to get on a bike and cycle 100km a day… on tar roads. But we were looking for something off the beaten track and adventurous. Last year’s trip was planned with the “back to basics” rule in mind – R10 a day for food (not plastic-packed rubbish) and we would get our water along the route from the Groot Marico River. It worked so well we decided to do it again this year.
The trip was organised this time in association with NorthWest Parks and Tourism Board and was really a recce for the big event next year, when we hope to have as many as 100 cyclists along with us. We will also map out a route for SUV owners.
The trip took us from Groot Marico to Botsalano on the first day. From there, we went to Mafikeng. The waterfowl paradise at Barberspan was our next destination, followed by Bloemhof, Wolwespruit, Boskop, Kgaswane, and Borakalalo before ending in the reserve part of Pilanesberg and pushing on to Swartruggens.
It was a group of three riders, Colin Cooper, Bianca Cooper and Steve Painter. Joining us were three non-riders performing the thankless task of being our back-up crew; Maggie Cooper, Jonas Schlueter-Korte and Sarah Mack.
We had hot weather (we did this in early October) and muscle-straining, dehydrating rides along all sorts of roads – ranging from good tar in spots to good, fast gravel and rock-strewn roads or, in one case, sand so thick it could have been on a beach (and we did more pushing than riding).
But there were amazing highs, too: encountering a family of white rhino in the Mafikeng Game Reserve – an unforgettable, but intimidating, experience to be perched on a mountain bike within metres of such powerful animals. Then eating our breakfast of flatbread while watching the sun rise over the grassy plain in which a mother and baby white rhino were grazing. Barberspan, the twitching paradise, where several different bird species were identified at the first water crossing, without having to make a significant effort to look.
Then the simple things: a dam that had cold borehole water overflowing out of the tap. We soaked ourselves in the blissfully cool water and refilled our empty bottles. I rode off knowing how desert wanderers must feel when encountering an oasis.
After days and days of high temperatures and hot baked sand roads, it rained, and it was wonderful to be cycling with the raindrops gently falling on our sunburnt arms.
Travelling via a scenic road towards our final destination, Swartruggens, we spoke little – overwhelmed with thought. It was a moment of mixed emotions, rolling toward our final stop – relief at being out of the heat, muscles happy to be given a chance to rest after hundreds of kilometres of grinding, but also sadness the adventure was over.