THE SONG OF THE PEDAL

Sunday Times - - Artisan -

I want to do a long moun­tain-bike tour in re­mote coun­try in South Africa. Do you have any ad­vice where I can go and what routes I could take? — Adam Wil­liams

You have cer­tainly cho­sen a fine place to do some spec­tac­u­lar, offthe-beaten-track moun­tain-bike tour­ing. This coun­try is blessed with moun­tain-bike trails of vary­ing dis­tances and dif­fi­culty, as well as a vast net­work of lonely roads in the Ka­roo re­gion on which you will be ut­terly alone most of the time with only the oc­ca­sional pass­ing farmer’s bakkie to dis­turb your rever­ies.

For starters, I rec­om­mend in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Free­dom Chal­lenge, a se­ries of dif­fer­ent races — some short, oth­ers long — which mostly tra­verse the moun­tain­ous “spine” of the coun­try.

The main — and most epic — event is the Race Across South Africa which starts in June each year and in­volves a 26-day, 2 300km trek across the coun­try from Pi­eter­mar­itzburg in KwaZulu-Na­tal to Welling­ton in the winelands of the West­ern Cape.

You are re­spon­si­ble for your own nav­i­ga­tion and sup­port for the du­ra­tion of the race — there are no back-up ve­hi­cles or free mas­sages at overnight spots. You must also be a pretty adept nav­i­ga­tor and handy with a map and com­pass — GPS de­vices are not per­mit­ted and much of the route-find­ing in­volves in­ter­pret­ing writ­ten “nar­ra­tives” to guide you from point to point.

Rid­ers must com­plete the route in 26 days or less and as there are no com­pul­sory overnight stops as with other stage races, how quickly you do it de­pends en­tirely on your abil­ity to suf­fer pain, hard­ship and lack of sleep.

This year’s race be­gins on June 12, just as win­ter takes the coun­try in its grip. As the route tra­verses some of the high­est coun­try in SA, We can help with your des­ti­na­tion dilem­mas, visa puz­zles and itin­er­ary ideas.

E-mail trav­el­[email protected] sun­day­times.co.za. this is not a balmy af­ter­noon crank in fields of flow­ers and cows. The web­site rams the mes­sage home: “Due to the na­ture of the ter­rain and time of year, the Race Across South Africa is a phys­i­cally and men­tally de­mand­ing un­der­tak­ing — to com­plete this chal­lenge, rid­ers need to be ad­e­quately trained, equipped and pre­pared. Apart from the fit­ness, rid­ers also need to be pro­fi­cient at nav­i­ga­tion and bike main­te­nance.”

The en­try fee — R35 000 in 2018 — cov­ers all your ac­com­mo­da­tion and meals en route as well as ac­cess to the set of 1:50 000 topo maps and route “nar­ra­tives” and trans­port of your “race boxes” to sup­port sta­tions en route. En­tries for 2018 have closed but 2019 beck­ons.

For more in­for­ma­tion see free­dom­chal­lenge.org.za.

If the thought of rac­ing does not ap­peal, you could also do the trail at any time you like, though you are un­likely to have ac­cess to the same ac­com­mo­da­tion as the race par­tic­i­pants who usu­ally stay on lo­cal farms, nor will you have the ca­ma­raderie and sup­port of fel­low moun­tain bik­ers should you find your­self in a tight spot.

If you are a com­pe­tent and con­fi­dent solo moun­tain biker, then I can rec­om­mend two books which should pro­vide the nec­es­sary in­spi­ra­tion. The first, Rid­ing The Dragon’s Spine by David Bris­tow and Steve Thomas (R206 on loot.co.za), cov­ers the 4 000km in­for­mal moun­tain-bike trail from Beit Bridge to Cape Town. Ac­cord­ing to the book — which is di­vided into nine de­tailed stand­alone sec­tions — the trail should take the “av­er­age off-road rider” 58 days to com­plete. There are plenty of maps and route de­scrip­tions and lots of pic­tures that, if noth­ing else, will make you yearn to get ped­alling right away.

The sec­ond book — Free­dom Ride: 10 000 Kilo­me­tres By Moun­tain Bike Across South Africa ($23.95 for the paper­back on ama­zon.com) is writer Kevin Davie’s ac­count of his epic moun­tain­bike trip across the coun­try.

Both books would be ex­cel­lent start­ing points to get to grips with the ter­rain you can ex­pect to cover on a long bi­cy­cle jour­ney in this coun­try’s re­motest places.

Pic­ture: bikepack­ingsa.com

HAPPY TRAILS South Africa is blessed with trails of vary­ing dif­fi­culty.

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