Monday, December 10, 2007

A little adventure

We started riding at about 8:00 which is pretty late for a long distance ride but graeme had to help get the kids organised before he was allowed to abandon the family for the day. The weather was pretty grim and we had no reason to expect it to get any better but riding in the rain isn't so bad so we pressed on regardless.

We hadn't ridden more that about 500m before we realised the value of the GPS, it is surprisingly easy to wander off the path down a dead end road or worse, a road without a dead end. The first part of the ride was fairly flat and it was great riding in the cool weather until we came to a 10' high electrified game fence. We could see what we thought was the path that we wanted continuing on the other side and it didn't look like the road that was on our side of the fence was going to be the right option. A feeling that was later confirmed when I looked at it from google earth again. It would have been a VERY long detour with numerous opportunities to get lost. From this I have learnt three things :
  • 10' high electrified fences don't show up on satellite photographs.
  • What looks clearly like a track from a satellite isn't always quite so clear on the ground.
  • Once you have decided to use a GPS route, you can't just head off in another direction so easily.

Getting over the fence was tricky but luckily graeme is 6'6" so he was able to squeeze the bikes between two gateposts. I was the lucky one to check if the electric fence was on which it wasn't, thank goodness. Trespassing, even when there is nobody around gives one a bit of a creepy feeling - you keep on expecting the farmer to jump out from behind something and let loose with the shotgun. This is not entirely an unwarranted feeling - this is South Africa after all.

Once we had crossed the farm and climbed out the other gate we rode through the most beautiful countryside complete with herds of game roaming around. I have no real idea but I suspect that they are just wild because there aren't any fences to keep them in. This was a particularly beautiful area.

We arrived at Hartbeesvlakte ruskamp which was disappointing mainly because it was derelict. I wonder what happened to the Fanie Botha walking trail which used to go through there. Immediately after the ruskamp we had the one and only serious ascent - 40 minutes of grind ascending 200m. It was wet and very slippery so there were a few anxious moments.

From the top it was downhill for a long way which would have been more fun in dry weather. In the wet we had to keep the speed down because it was very easy for the front wheel to slip and we had several occasions the front wheel would hit small innocuous looking rocks and you would suddenly be travelling at 45 deg. angle to what you were doing. Some of the descent was very tricky due to the river incorporating the road into its path, as you can see from the concentration on graemes face.

Up until now we had been going for about 5 1/2 hours and had tried to phone caron to tell her that we were late, very late since we were expecting to complete the whole ride in about 4 to 5 hours.

Next came another big lesson about satellite photography, they don't show cliffs in addition to electric fences so we found ourselves perched on the top of a 20m cliff with the invisible thin blue line (gps) running out from the bottom of it. It was only metres away but there was no way to get there. We contoured around the top of the cliff hoping for a break in the cliff face that we would be able to scramble down and as luck or in graemes case, divine intervention would have it - we found one. Actually graeme found it while I was particularly worried that this was just a route down to another cliff but given the choice between about 6 hours of riding back the way that we had come and 30 minutes to scramble the cliff, I took the 30 minute option. The terrain we were scrambling through had recently had a severe fire, so severe that in addition to burning all the forest and bush, the rocks that were exposed had burst so there were razor sharp shards of rock everywhere and holding on any rocks was fraught with danger because they tended to come away in your hand.

Scrambling down the scree slope we could see up ahead a line that looked like another set of cliffs so we were really relieved when the slope carried on after the line. We were standing there looking at the slope carrying on when I realised that there was something decidedly odd about this line - it looked way too regular, in fact it looked remarkably like a road. In fact it was the road although it hasn't seen a wheel in maybe 10 years because there were small trees growing in the middle of it.

This was where I learnt yet another lesson. A small tree was lying over the path at about axle height. It was only about the thickness of my thumb so I thought I could just ride over it. This was not to be and it stopped me dead in my tracks and threw me off the bike. The ride was pretty easy from here on although very treacherous and slippery. Graeme's bike started making horrible grinding noises which was when we discovered that he had worn through his new front and back brake pads and that the brakes were riding on the aluminium rims. I was very close to having worn out my back brake pads as well.

On one occasion there was some deep mud and for what reason I don't know but I looked back to see where graeme was and lost my line and fell off slap bang in front of the oncoming graeme. He managed to stop with his wheel against my back, pretty innocuous in the end but it could have been spectacular.

We finally made it to the meeting point with caron at 16:00, 8 hours of very wet riding later. We begged to wash our bikes and ourselves at the local car wash which they kindly allowed us to do before we tucked into some well earned grub.

P.S. I didn't see a low pole and reversed the car into it bending the back wheel of my bike. (*&^(*&^*(&^^!!!!!

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