THE SONG OF THE PEDAL
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.
HAPPY TRAILS South Africa is blessed with trails of varying difficulty.