The RASA riders will be in the vicinity of the town of Molteno, closing in on Romansfontein, Gunsteling, Hofmeyr and Elandsberg.
The Karoo, is thought to be a Khoisan word, meaning hard, barren or desert. Where does it start and where does it end? I am not sure that there is a specific start or end to the Karoo, neither East or West, North or South. My guess is that the RASA riders are now entering the eastern side of the Karoo.
Leaving Kranskop, where they will have had one of the best venison pies ever, plus a multitude of other eats, the riders continue southwest towards Brosterlea. Being winter, they will be treated to an intermediate stop over meal provided by Barrie and Alta. Okay, let’s give all the credit to Alta…! It will definitely be soup and bread. Brosterlea is a beautiful farm and will be difficult for the riders to leave.
Once they leave Brosterlea, they head about another 80km towards Romansfontein, to be hosted by Wil and Stephanie. The Karoo, as has most of South Africa, had a good rainy season this year, preceded by a decent season last year. The farmers, including Wil and Stephanie, will be smiling. Stephanie serves a great Lamb pie, also with numerous accompaniments. Unfortunately for the racers, they probably won’t have time to indulge in Stephanie’s rusks, and also the well stocked fridge with beer and wine. On arrival, they would have been treated to a sherry to warm the tummies. Let us not underestimate Wil. Wil has been a Cape Epic finisher, and his brother Echard told me, he is scared, but keen to get back on his bike again.
Speaking of Echard, the riders will pass through his farm, Gunsteling, next. The at times steep, but beautiful Aasvoelberg awaits. Once over this and through the other side, it is not a terrible ride to Hofmeyr, where the well known Farmhouse Home Industry shop awaits. Lamb pies and Ginger Beer…. If that doesn’t suffice, they will pop across the road to the Victoria Boutique Hotel, and maybe even overnight there. I suspect that quite a few riders may just want to stay over an extra night, as it is super comfortable.
From Hofmeyr, the riders will head towards Elandsberg, where Liesel and Joe will host them. Well, actually Liesel, Joe, dogs, parrots, a meercat, etc, etc. It was once reported that a cow marched through the house whilst some riders were there as well. Elandsberg has been on the Freedom Challenge overnight stopovers for some time, and you are sure to get a good meal there, and it is always an interesting stopover. The preceding Elandsberg portage is not the worst on the trail.
From Elandsberg to Groenfontein is a fairly fast section. Earlier this year it was noted that the farm Newlands was abound with sheep once again. This is great to see, as Newlands has had its challenges in recent times. It has also been noted that the Pauls River has flowed strongly this year, however this should not be a major issue this time of the year.
After a hospitable brunch with Frans and Amelia de Klerk, the ride is fairly tame until entering the Garslandskloof road. From there it is a definite uphill pull to get to the Schurfteberg portage. Once on the Schurfteberg trail, navigation is easy. Simply keep climbing, keep climbing, turn left, keep climbing and climb some more. It is a tough haul, and going down the other side is a long steep ride, where riders will be on their brakes constantly, ensuring they don’t go over the edge.
Once down at the bottom of Schurfteberg, the RASA riders will veer left and on the road that takes them past Jakkalsfontein. There are some testing hills on the road, and if you happen to pass Jakkalsfontein in daylight, you will notice what must once have been a magnificent farm. Once the riders arrive at the T junction they will turn right on the road to Groot Vlakte, with some steep climbs on the farm as the riders head on to Fietskraal.
Speaking of magnificent farms, while riding or driving the roads in the Karoo, you will see many abandoned farm houses. You will be forgiven for thinking these are all bankrupt farms. Yet, the reality is that smaller farms are no longer economically viable and neighbouring farmers have bought up these farms so that they have larger, commercially viable properties. For many of the farmers children that were bought up there, it is a sad evolution. They would have been long standing family farms, where the sons and daughters may have loved to have taken over their families’ farm. The positive side is that the farms remain productive as our country needs livestock farms to feed the nation.
Sheep, cattle and goats eat the fynbos and Karoo bossies, and given the right veld, you get a distinct flavour of Karoo bossie in your meat. It is said that the sheep can be grazing in camps next door to each other, and the meat could taste different. Some people are not partial to the flavour, but to many, Karoo lamb is the best. The riders may also encounter significant flocks of 100+ Blue Cranes if they are lucky.
Forgive me for my ramblings about this section of the Freedom Trail, however as stated up front, I love the Karoo.
The Karoo cannot be summed up better than from the book, Plains of the Camdeboo, where Eve Palmer, from the farm Cranemere, (about 5 kilometres on the left outside of Pearston towards Graaff-Reinet) wrote: -