…and so the day dawned, fresh and with all the elements that make this trip so special:
1. Hot – it was tanning weather at 6am.
2. Dry – we were not far from Beaufort West, after all.
3. Scary – 3000m vertical (4 x Table Mountain height rises) lay ahead of us to get over, including a 2km portage.
4. Filled with food – our B&B had made us oats, bacon, eggs, toast, tomato, sausages, cereal, yoghurt, coffee, tea, juice, etc.
A quick note on the size of our bags, so that there is a better understanding of how minimalist this trip is…
Here is a picture of the boys a few days later on the Ouberg Pass. Note how small (barring Hansel, who brought a cooler bag sized pack) the bags are. We each carry the following as a maximum:
1. 1 set casual gear.
2. 2 sets riding gear.
3. 1 chamois towel
4. 2 sets socks.
5. 0 sets underpant.
6. 1 set shoes.
That’s virtually it, barring nutrition. So there is a bit of shuffling of the pack every morning to make sure everything fits. The bag is hot on your back, especially once you fill the bladder with water. It’s a small concession for the spaces we play in, but a worthy mention to the story.
The route for day 3 was partly new to the guys who rode last year. Last year we got a lift to the top of the pass (partly destroying the poor Fortuner we got a lift in) and rode straight into Gamkaskloof.
This year we opted to ride out the door and up the pass. After learning to true wheels the night before, I was excited to ride up the pass but happy to save energy and not ride up with any sort of effort. I knew the road into De Hel was to be earned, respected and valued, not taken for granted.
A smooth 5km warm-up before the gradual climb started and then it kicks suddenly and sharply and you are fully aware that you are in for one of the most fun days of your life, if you are into this extreme riding in remote places without any help and limited water thing, like some of us are. We all have our poisons.
The boys made a far more measured start to the day and I opted to stop and take photos of the bro’s coming up the pass, which had some of the most special views of the trip. Keeping the effort as easy as possible whilst climbing a mountain with a bag on your back is of course totally relative and I am, as Dale says, not objective when it comes to these things.
The climb was quite brutal as the temperature was rising rather quickly. There has been limited rain in the last year and the ruts and bumps are pronounced, especially on the hardtail. This was a day where I would miss my Zula quite a bit, but James seemed to be content to hang onto it for the week. We stopped at the top for a quick drying of gear (some of us were drenched head to toe by 8am already) and a special photo opportunity at what seemed to be the top of the world.
Onto Gamkaskloof and the temperature was just getting hotter and hotter as the day progressed. The road into Gamkaskloof is rutted, rocky and jam packed with short, sharp climbs, longer climbs and one lung buster. There are some amazing downhill runs to distract and get the adrenaline going along the way. Ok, wait, that’s a bit of a push. There is the most amazing 12km descent you may ever ride on this road. It winds up from semi-fast to ultra mega fast and is filled with fast, long corners and some sudden river crosses along the way.
James and I got over the first climbs first and I stuck him on my wheel for the long downhill to ride the lines. Even if he wasn’t sure of the bike yet, I knew the Captain tires with their will-stick-to-the-road-like-peanut-butter-to-a-mohair-carpet grip and the reliable suspension of the Zula would keep him on my tail and get his adrenaline rushing. I was missing the Zula through the rocky stuff but once onto the smoother road the Kwela was amazing. James & I were flying down this long descent at 60-70km/h with the biggest smiles ever. I would turn to look at him every few minutes and the smile just got bigger and bigger as we went faster and faster. Driven by the connection we bombed harder and harder, riding faster and faster down the mountain, bunny hopping obstacles at 50km/h and berming the corners with gusto until I hopped a corner in the shade only to realize that there was a 200km drop off and a 90 degree turn in roughly 7-8 meters time. It required a double fist pull of the brakes and some sideways sliding from both of us and what can only be described as nervous laughter of the most boyish kind, but with about 80cm to spare we hit the corner and let out a joint shout of joy that we had made it.
To quote James, it went like this…
“WHOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOO that was freaking amazing, YEEEEHAAAAAA!!!”
A fist thump of celebration and we kept riding down the hill, regrouping before the last climb. A long, super hot road led to the top where we were treated with some more spectacular views before the last descent into De Hel. I held back with Collin for El Documente (picture taking) and got some great photos of all the guys going down the hill. We made our way down the really steep descent called “The Snake” into the valley and came across the guys about ¾ ways down. They looked pretty unnerved. Guy had come off in the corner and was shaking from shock and holding his arm. My first thought was broken collarbone and that his trip was over.
Typically the most exciting news was that Ryan had actually captured the crash in full HD on his GoPro. Boys will be boys I guess. Turned out Guy was pretty badly cut up with 2 nice holes in his elbow but would make it. We all knew this was not the time to molly cuddle and got him on his bike and into the valley as quickly as possible. Sometimes, tough love is just what we all need.
We descended on the one shop in the valley like hungry vultures, temperatures now searing in the mid forties centigrade. I promptly ordered 2 sandwich platters and 10 cokes. This was round 1. Round 2 was soon on the way and we each polished about 8 slices (slabs) or bread and 4 cokes before you could blink an eye.
With the hardest part of the day still to come we made our way into the area where Die Leer is, a 2km portage with bikes on your back. The boys were looking tired at the top of Heartbreak Hill (it was called many more unsavory things but this is a PG-13 area so we’ll leave it to the imagination for now), so we stopped for a swim and a refuel to break our wheels off the bikes and cable tie them to the frames for easier portage.
When you tell someone who has never seen Die Leer that it’s between “those two trees” you always get this super confused look back. Where? WTF is wrong with you? There is nothing there bro!
Either way, it’s a rocky donkey trail up the side of a pretty steep mountain carrying a bike and a bag on your back after an already long day. For 50min to an hour, you look 2 steps in front of you and gingerly plod away at your task. Pretty simple stuff really. Like stepping onto 3 boxes at the gym with 15kg on your back after cycling for 5 hours like, 3000 times.
Simple stuff really.
The top came, we sat, and we repacked bikes (mine now with locked brakes – rad!) and made our way to Seweweekspoort on what can loosely be described as a road. Guy was pretty sore from his fall but happy that the end was close. Or so we thought. It was further than we though and to add insult to injury, Ryan popped all his crank bolts about 8km from home, so we makeshift fixed them with a spare from Guy’s bike and he rode the baby ring home from there.
The lads were looking mad tired by the time we got to the accommodation and James wanted to run, so he went off for a jog while the rest of us mended our wounds, passed out or in my case, hopped in the bakkie with the tannie who managed the accommodation and went to her house to get more drinks and make a call or two to let the world know we made it safely, after a 9 hour day in the sun. I came back with 30 tins of coke/fanta/sprite and 12 beers. 5 of all those made it to the next morning, the rest were goooooooone!
There is something about getting through this day in De Hel which stands out from all the rest.
Something about conquering the places which are deemed too extreme by everyone you know. Something about doing it with a group of mates who had a lot of good vibes going. Something about narrowly escaping death on that descent, maybe?
Whatever it was, we all slept like babies after eating like garbage disposal units (all but Guy, who was struggling with his wounds on pillows that were not exactly Egyptian cotton) and there was this amazing buzz in the house that evening. Achievement, adventure and the truly deep, simple fatigue that we came seeking was omnipresent among this small select group of mavericks in the middle of nowhere.
It was far from over, this trip, but already, it was a massive success.