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Stettyns, or is it Satyns, (Afrikaans for Satin’s)

As per the narrative, the distance from Trouthaven to Diemersfontein is 51km. Only 51km – that is less an average coffee ride for a group of us on a Saturday or Sunday. Oh, but the narrative also says the average rider time for this leg is 11 hours. That seems a far stretch, however….

I completed Stettyns, with a group of acquaintances in 2021. Acquaintances, because one of the guys suggested what could be better than three weeks out of the office, enjoying RASA with friends. Let’s be clear, no friend would ever suggest this to a mediocre cyclist/adventurer. Only an acquaintance would suggest such an evil. 

And yes, I do prefer to call it Stettyns. Whilst at times it is hellish difficult to trek through, with Hakea and Proteas slapping you in the face and reminding you constantly that you weren’t sane to accept this challenge, and if the weather is bad, even Satin would fear this place. The truth is, Stettyns is beautiful. The Proteas, at times above head height, are glorious. Sunbirds there are, and the mountains are splendid.

The ride from Trouthaven to the entrance to Stettyns is apparently pretty. We did it early morning in the dark, so I must believe the person that told me this. The acquaintance who we were riding with advised that it was an easy ride to the beginning of Stettyns. He lied. Most of us pushed our bikes numerous times. I suppose if you are not fatigued it is easier, but it is still a hard slog.

Meandering around and past the Stettynskloof Dam is not a massive deal, and after hiking with your bike next to you, you wonder what the big deal is about. I recall one of our acquaintances saying it’s not that bad, and that we were probably halfway through the kloof. Yeah right, we were probably less than a quarter way there. 

The exit from Stettyns to Fisantekraal looking across the kloof on a balmy day

And then the real deal hit us. The next three quarters of Stettyns was indescribable to those who have not been there. We missed the main path by about 20m and we struggled through heavy undergrowth and the dreaded hakeas. Grab onto a hakea at your peril. The needle-sharp spikes advise you to quickly let go and find an alternate grip to wend your way through the thickets. You think you are doing okay and then a few little streams come gushing down the mountain to find the river below. Getting across these is a challenge. First you and your bike must find a way down the little V shaped stream, cross the water without getting knocked off your feet or slipping, and then struggle to get up the other side. Doing this without a bike would be a challenge, but eventually you slide down on your bum, (or at least I did), and then contemplate how to get out the other side. After a while, you grip a thin piece of foliage and hope for the best. As they say, if you live and work in hope, you probably need a better plan. Not sure how, but you do some how manage to get up the other side, and then after another scramble through the thick vegetation below your feet, you repeat the process of getting over another stream once again, And so it carries on….. I would imagine if we found the proposed path to follow, it may have been a touch easier. However, as I am sure many others have been in the same situation, we didn’t that year.

About three quarters of the way through the kloof, one passes pieces of an aeroplane wreck. An air force Shackleton that crashed on the 08th of August 1963. I won’t go into the details here, but do read up about this, it is a very interesting read. I did feel a sense of wanting to say a little prayer of respect to the crew, but at that stage I was only praying for myself.

The other problem with Stettyns is that most of the day is spent trekking up the kloof in the shade. The path to be traversed is on the southern slope of the mountain, which is cold and moist. We stopped for a sandwich break once or twice, but it is so cold you don’t want to stop for too long.

And then you start to see the suggested routes out of Stettyns. As per the norm, they don’t seem to get closer, however once you choose your path out, you feel like a horse starting to sense home. Soon the horse hits reality again and you cross yet another strong flowing stream. One of these acquaintances got washed off his feet and I managed a little laugh at him, despite my more than grumpy disposition. 

After several attempts of trying to find the easiest way up and out of the kloof, I lay on my back, exhausted. I looked at the mountain in the sun on the other side of the ascent out and thought to myself this would not be a bad place to die – RIGHT NOW!

My final view preparing “To Die”

After a few minutes, getting up on my feet, I tripped and rolled down a few metres. Oh no, the slog up again. An acquaintance, and yes, (I continue to refuse to call them friends), and I tried to help pull and push each other up the steep slope. What degree slope it is I don’t know, but at that stage it felt like 60 degrees. After one of our party came down and advised us of the preferred route out, and with a little – okay a lot of help from him, we finally “summitted”.

Ha, ha, ha – you think the slog is all but over. 

Then starts the matter of trumbling, (is there such a word?) down to find the track/jeep path that takes one to Fisantekraal. It is a walk ride affair, but once on the track, it gets easier until the Fisantekraal homestead at the bottom. After this is a steep, but rideable (if you’re not too fatigued like I was) two strip concrete path up to a tar road. The road down to the old DuToitskloof tar road and tunnel is like WOW. I am going to finish this. But NO, NO, there is the matter of a sadistic trek up the old tar road and through the tunnel before heading down to Diemersfontein. I say sadistic, because after 2130km, this is the last thing anyone wants. I was told to grit it out for 2.5km. Liar. I think it’s around 8km? 

The view down to Fisantekraal from StettynS

That little trip down the power lines to Diemersfontein seems to be adventure over and savour the moment. Problem was, we missed the correct side of the power lines and had to go all the way to the top of the hill again. Luckily for me I kept my mouth shut, as I did no navigating that year, and had I said anything, everyone would still be looking for my head in the Indian Ocean.

Yes, we eventually finished some 18 hours later to a rather “flat’ Diemersfontein. That year was a dreaded COVID aftermath year and people were still banned from ordinary travel mostly. There was race office to greet us, as well as one or two family and friends living in the Western Cape. No wine to top off the event, as alcohol sales were still not allowed. Our family from  Johannesburg had to simply Dot Watch us finish with a live feed from the end

The purpose of this post?

Hopefully those not acquainted with the last day of RASA can get a glimpse of the day. I was lucky not to have rain on the day, which some of our team had the following year on RTP, which was dreadful by all accounts.

Today, the group of 8 riders that left Pietermaritzburg in the first group, most will experience Stettyns for their first time ever. So great that all 8 will inevitably start and finish as a group! It is sincerely my wish that they have the best of days, with memories that will be forever cast in their minds. For most it will be the toughest day out on their bike in their lives. But of man, so rewarding. Stettyns is a “Right of Passage” trip to me. I would not want it any other way. There is an alternate route, but I would have it no other than Stettyns. It’s like Lehanas, Osseberg, etc. It’s not RASA without these to me, (barring forced diversions because of weather issues from Race Office.)

I feel a little lump in my throat. Maybe I should have been there? Maybe I would also be in Wellington this evening? I will never know, and that is the sad reality of FOMO as well! Physically, after a heavy fall during RTW earlier this year, I still have some issues I am dealing with, so I could not consider a late entry to the event or even RTR, however I sincerely hope that all eight savour their great experience until their memory fades, and please have that glass, (okay BORRL), of wine that I could not experience at the end.

And not to forget, for those who haven’t earned one yet, it will be their best blanket ever! And, as I did, don’t be scared to shed a tear of emotion.

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Beautifully written - captures the experience in all its glory.

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