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Klipfontein - Buckland's 500km ride - October 2023

So this adventure came out of the blue.  You know of course I am sworn off many-hour, multi-day rides -  chafe on my nether regions, a dodgy neck, my poor ability to navigate on maps plus I was going away so would miss out on crucial training blah blah.  Anyhoo ....  somehow I conveniently forgot about these inconveniences when this tour appeared on my radar.  I heard about it one Friday evening, mulled over it during sleep time, spoke about it during our Saturday morning ride, agonised over why I could not/should not do it on the car ride home, found a previous whats-app message to Jan where he had sent a positive note on his cancer treatment and promptly said I am doing it; which pushed him over the line and suddenly I had a partner-in-crime.

I put in what cycling training I could, spent time in the gym, got lessons on fixing bikes, prepped the maps and narratives and worked really hard on my head.  What my body could not do my head was going to do.  

Decision was made on 22 July and we set off for Klipfontein on 20 October - Eddie "Buffalo Herder" and Jan.  


Our first night was at Klipfontein which is a lovely cottage close to one of the battle-sites of the Boerwar (Stormberg). We arrived early afternoon and a little later Cathy and Ron arrived.  All the Joburgers were in place.  Mike Roy - our fearless leader and organiser arrived that evening as well.  Our host was Madelene.  We set off on an exploratory ride the next morning and the rest of the team arrived in the afternoon - Tania, Tilla, Guy and Tim.  There was a flurry of bike preparation and excited chatter.  There was a lekker braai, team talks and some rugby watching.

DAY 1 - KLIPFONTEIN - RIETFONTEIN 95KM, 8h09 (moving time but Garmin lost battery at about 10.30 hours), 12 hours total time, 1234m

We left at 07:30 - which is so late! It was very cold and there was a hectic headwind which kept us company for about 50kms. Mike was struggling - he does not have the most health of hearts. He decided it was wise to rather call it a day before the Aasvogelberg portage so left us at the Gunsteling turn-off.  It was misty and cold and a long way up!  Cathy was on her e-bike and was amazing - she just kept on riding!! I was so much better on the navigation this time and had a better sense of where we were on the map most of the time. Ron was struggling a bit with energy and nausea but persevered. I was super cautious on the descent and walked quite a bit.  It is rocky and steep.  And then we hit the mud - holy cow! It was super sticky, wheel-clogging, swear-inducing mud.  One revolution of the mud and the wheels couldn't turn again.  But, inexorably, these things come to an end and we got to the bottom of the hill.  

We were on a section that before had almost broken me and I was mentally prepared for a long hard slow sloggy uphill.  We were climbing a saddle in the Bamboesberge.  Darling Jan stayed with me and I played music from my cellphone in my pants pocket.  Ron kept having to rest and lie down - he was really not doing well.  I kept saying to Jan we still have lots more climbing to do and he would just look at me with disbelief and might I say dislike? We got to the top of a climb and Tania was there with her fruit cake - when I saw where we were I couldn't believe it - we were AT THE TOP. The descent is fast and fun (even for poep-scared me!). We met up with Mike and Eddie at the bottom. We left Ron to climb in the car (wise decision) and we schlurped a coke and set off for the last 15k or so.  

Rietfontein was a total oasis.  It is a hunting lodge and farm and beautifully laid out.  There were 2 fires, snacks, warm showers, comfy beds, delicious game on the braai and veggies, red wine - what more could a girl want! Rochelle was our lovely host there.

DAY 2 - RIETFONTEIN - ELANDSBERG 62KM, 4h26 (moving time), 7 hours total time, 1639m

Eddie looked at my gears for me - they were so messy and jumpy from the mud yesterday. Then we set off for Hofmeyer about 20kms away. It was a glorious sunny day. We stopped at the famous Farmhouse Coffee Shop with some of us doing some retail therapy there. I ordered a chicken mayonnaise roosterkoek for snacks later. We split up with the speedies heading off. I stayed with Mike as his ticker needed a gentle day. It is so enriching and wonderful listening to someone else's stories and life experiences.  We met up with Eddie at the entrance to the Elandsberg portage and Cathy stayed with us.  I got to really practise navigation and it was empowering and fun. We stopped at old farm ruins and an old wagon. It really is astonishing how people moved through these mountains all that time ago on those lumbering wagons.

DAY 3 - ELANDSBERG - GROENFONTEIN 57 KM, 4h52 (moving time), 6 hours total time, 1323m

The valley out of Elandsberg is really beautiful and it is a slight downhill the whole way which enhances the beauty!!

It was a lovely ride through Longacres Farm and we stopped at this beautiful guest farm - Mountain View for coffee. Then we headed off into Tam's Safaris. For me the wheels started coming off here.  I suspect, because it was a shorter easier day, that I didn't pay enough attention to the nutrition going into my body. I realised the error when I started getting ratty and irritable.  It is almost too late at that point to correct.  I struggled the last 18kms.  When this happens I get tearful and full of doubt. I have this constant voice in my head telling me I am too slow, not good enough and so on. As hard as I counter that voice with a positive, caring voice it often nails me. My throat closes up and then I have a panic attack. I literally cannot breathe.  I talk out loud to myself (and also to let whoever is near me what is happening) and convince myself to relax my throat and just breathe and it is all ok and I am ok. This can take 5 - 10 minutes and it is really upsetting. Eddie was near me at that point - he thought I was having as asthma attack.  Anyway I got into the farm but needed quite a long time to recover my composure.  My left shoe had also broken. I figured out how to fix it and with Jan's help and a LOT of duct tape I sorted it out.  

Groenfontein was a beautiful farm and lots of dogs around. Amelia was our hostess there and her lamb dinner was outstanding.  I did a meditation before going to sleep so that I could reset and not take my upset and doubt into the next day.

DAY 4 - GROENFONTEIN - TOLLIES AFRICAN SAFARIS 82 KM, 6h41 (moving time), 8.5 hours total time, 2069m

I hadn't realised that I had done part of this section before so it was weird riding along with these memory flashes. We rode about 30 km before we reached the Schurfteberg portage.  We start low in this valley and when you look up - you just see up, up, up! I swopped shoes and set off on the loooong trek up.  It is just slow and steady and lots is ridable but I just ended up walking it all. I was super surprised when we got to the top as I thought there was still a bit to go - love those sort of surprises. The descent on the other side is ridable but yoh my hands and arms ached from hanging onto my brakes for dear life. We met Eddie on the road near the Jakkalsfontein farm and then headed off for the last 25kms or so.  Jan, Mike, Guy and myself rode this part together.

We got into Tollies African Safaris which is a hunting farm.  It was quite luxurious and divine to be in this comfort. Dinner was a beef brisket sliced really thin braaied with salt - OMG!!  Then it was 2 types of game, veggies, salad, potatoes served. Schlurp - I have really missed veggies and salad.

DAY 5 - TOLLIES AFRICAN SAFARIS - PEARSTON 38 KM, 5h01 (moving time), 6.5 hours total time, 598m

We left Tollies and headed straight up the mountain behind them - bloody hell!  This was the start to the Struishoek portage.  The distances on this day were so little but they took a long time - going up and going down. On any of the riding bits I was quite slow but just got on with it. I loved going down Struishoek - I found the white rocks and found me in front and stayed there.  It was boiling hot - 38 degrees but we found a couple of rivers so sloshed around in the rivers to cool off. The cool river water was so delicious. It was about 18km into Pearston from the farmhouse at the bottom of the portage and it just took aaaaages! 

I was craving a toasted cheese and tomato but didn't want to cause chaos in the little hotel's kitchen. We were able to get hot chips, lemon juice and salt - that went down like a home-sick mole!!  Beers and wine and crisps were shared around the table.  We did this every evening and I loved all the joking, stories, teasing.

DAY 6 - PEARSTON - TOEKOMST 74 KM, 5h55 (moving time), 7 hours total time, 1339m

I sang my way for the 1st 30kms.  It is a long, long district road. I was way behind everyone but all was cool in my world. I was focussing on staying steady.  My mantras were something along the lines of:

I am power

I am strength

I am steady

I am f%$#@ing awesome

I am calm

I said these everyday to myself and they were really powerful for me. They also kept the negative talk at bay.  It is hard to always be at the back, the last rider.... so this was really useful for me to keep my focus on the right conversations in my head.

I did notice that I had a LOT of Irish music in my playlist - I think my Mom was listening in and keeping me company.

We went through a few farms and climbed and dropped constantly for about 18kms and then we headed into the Koedoeskop Game Farm.  Gosh this was so so beautiful. We were in a valley with mountains on both sides of us. It made me feel insignificant and yet such an intrinsic part of a beautiful world.  We had lunch in the shade and some of us lolled around in the water.

About 16kms or so later we pulled into the beautiful farm of Toekomst. I do so enjoy arriving at these places in the afternoon. There is time to absorb a little of these homes, lifestyles, energies.  There is time to kuier and cuddle a dog and drink a beer, and sometimes even have a little nap.

DAY 7 - TOEKOMST - BUCKLANDS 97 KM, 8h18 (moving time), 10.5 hours total time, 931m

Shoowee the last day.  I was really nervous for this big distance.  My friend Sue suggested to me to break it down into 10km bite size pieces.  This was so useful for me.  I had 9 of these to do and some change. Again sang my way for the 1st 45kms with Mom keeping me company.  We lost Mike along the way. He broke a spoke so Eddie jumped on his bike and got to join us.  Also Tim and Tilla had set off for home so we were a reduced group. Given this was supposed to not be so much climbing it just felt like MOST of it was climbing.  I sang, I cursed, I chatted to my self, I mantra-ed up a storm, I swore, I shouted once...... the road just went on and on and on. It rained on and off and was at times freezing and then other times so hot. We went through the Perdepoort - it is a cold valley road with steep valley walls on either side. It was beautiful and a little eerie. Shoo I was tired. We were heading to a padstal which was on a downhill except the road was so kak!  Yoh by the time I got there the sense of humour had almost left me.  I eventually had my long awaited toasted sandwich and a strawberry milk shake. 

It was about 35km left to the finish.  There was an insane headwind - I had to pedal really hard down a steep hill - what the hell!! Eddie put me on his wheel and cajoled me along.  Exhaustion was proper.  There were these stunning mountains in the distance and the threat of heavy rain. I was starting to run on fumes and had to reach really deep to stay strong in my head - my legs were poked!

Jan waited for me near the end and we rode into Bucklands together. I promptly burst into tears when we got there - I was finished in so many ways.

Dinner was a delicious braai which included skilpadjies.  This is lamb liver wrapped in netvet (which is the fatty membrane that surrounds the kidneys). Food, wine, a soft little dog leaning against me, a soft sofa for my butt and the relief, joy and pride to have completed another audacious goal.  I did it - EFI (every, fking inch).

Thank you Jan for being such a fun, wonderful partner. Thank you Mike for organising. Thank you to Tim, Tania, Tilla, Guy, Cathy and Ron for the camaraderie and to Eddie for your awesome buffalo herding skills.

And of course the cherry on top was the Bokke winning the world cup rugby. What an end to an epic adventure!

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