Ladies size bikes are not made for bike packing. John is 6’3; he can fit his whole wardrobe and a bike workshop under his saddle. I am 5’4 and have short legs. There is about a 23cm gap between my saddle and the wheel before I even sit on it. I can maybe fit my toothbrush and a small power bank back there without anything touching. There is only space for one bottle cage in the frame.
We could now open a small bike packing shop with all the kit we ended up buying and trying and discarding in our quest to find the best kit and setup. What was the solution? A 20 something year old dry bag strapped to my handlebars with two cable ties and some cut-off tie downs left over from our paddling days.
Every day when we take the dogs for a walk, my backpack comes too. What’s inside? A 4kg weight and after a raid on the pantry, a few random cans of baked beans are lurking somewhere in there as well. Little Pip, the geriatric daschund, is added in every now and again for an extra 5kg weight training. The neighbours think that we are mad.
You may need to take out a second mortgage and spend the kids’ inheritance to set yourself up for this type of riding. There is lots of trial and error. A new bike when someone drives off without tying his bike on properly and cracks the frame. A second new bike because the bike you have is all wrong for open gravel roads, big hills and rocky descents. Extreme lights, a second Garmin, a bigger backpack, warm weather gear, cold weather gear, wet weather gear. New cycling kit because yours is worn out from all the training. New tyres because the ones on the bike are not quite right. New shoes because your current ones are looking a bit old and could start splitting at the seams, weekends away and training trips. In fact, just replace anything that has a remote bit or wear and tear in it. Start with everything in tip top shape and even then, it’s no guarantee that it won’t go wrong.
You will become obsessed with how much things weigh, including yourself. The kitchen scale and the bathroom scale will make numerous appearances. Not sure which jacket to pack, the one that weighs 50g less. Can you lift your bike comfortably and carry it? More of the inheritance spent changing parts. I instantly lost 1.6kg just changing my fork. I wish it was that easy for me to lose that much weight.
Train with your bike fully loaded as though it is race day. What you think will work usually doesn’t and it’s too late to change it once the event starts.
Very important lesson, do not try to bunny-hop a rut with a fully laden bike, it will not end well. You may end up having to walk, very very far, by yourself, in the blazing sun, with no water.
Slow down. Go carefully.
You will get lost, even with a Garmin. Not trusting that thin blue line is a thing, ask our new friend Andy, who we found wandering around going in the wrong direction, trying to figure out where he went wrong. That line going straight off the road and into a solid wall of trees can’t possibly be right!
Not sure where to go, stop, look around. No, it’s not that turn with the nice tar stretch that meanders gently down the hill to the mission at the bottom; you aren’t quite softened up enough yet. Instead, look for the biggest hill, the rockiest, rutted, gnarliest route and know that is where you are going. Long, smooth, rolling downhill where you can let go and fly, don’t get too excited, you are turning off, shortly, and it’s not onto manicured single track. River crossings, look for where the cows cross, get in, get wet, get across. Big, muddy puddles, just ride through the middle and get it over with. When John ignores the instructions I just find a shady tree, sit down, take a tea break and wait. He eventually comes back to find me, at which point I will politely point out the error of his ways.
I have yet to discover how we will cope with a compass and a map, but it should be interesting. There may even be some discussion but he will eventually agree with my way of thinking and superior navigation skills. I will let you know.
So why did I miss the turn and get a self-inflicted penalty of riding an extra 15km, that I didn’t have to. As Ingrid so politely put it, we ladies have to worry about a front and a back bit. When you realise, in horror, at the start that you forgot to bring your special stuff, hope for the best, but it doesn’t quite work out that way and that if you don’t get to a pharmacy today you will not be sitting on a bicycle seat for the foreseeable future. The sun is setting, you are 40km from nowhere and come to the final realisation, that as much as you have wished for it to just go away, that this is, in fact, a big problem. The generosity of total strangers who will help, if you only ask. A few phone calls to the B&B’s of Matatiele to book a bed for the night (see, I did kind of get part of our original vision), a very kind B & B host who understood my predicament and made sure the pharmacy parcel was waiting for me when we arrived, problem fixed. I would not have finished the ride if it weren’t for her. The next time I passed through Matatitiele I took her a bunch of roses to say a big thank you.
So much for the no riding in the dark idea. Due to our little detour to Matatiele we ended up back on track an hour later than we should have been. We got to Politic Kraal (see I know exactly where that is now), it had started to rain, and the sun was going down. We hit the gate and the fence line to Ntsikeni as the sun disappeared behind the horizon, 5 minutes later it was dark. Out came the rain jackets on went the lights. Once we realised that we had everything that we needed and the only way to get to the end was to keep riding. It wasn’t so bad.
Fill up with water wherever you can, even if your bottles are still nearly full. You never know where the next clean water will be. See point about very long walks above.
Support the local spaza shops. They need the support much more than Woolworths does. There is lots of lovely nutritious food on that dusty shelf in that little tin shack. You’d also be surprised how much 2 days’ worth of snacks weigh when your ice-cream pantry is still a day’s ride away.
Most importantly, get out there, find new routes and tracks, be brave, try, have fun.
Don’t let the little things hold you back, because if I can do this, anyone can.