The Road Goes Ever On (Part 1)

Several life events have kept me off the bike, and this blog, for large periods of the past few months. Principal of these has been our family’s relocation back to the UK – a move that neither Yoli or I ever really anticipated, but which has happily worked out more smoothly than we could have wished for. As all consuming as that process has been though, it wouldn’t be entirely fair to blame the lack of cycling on that though. After The Munga, and the year of preparation leading up to it, it’s fair to say my enthusiasm to be on the bike ebbed a little. As a result, the occasional rides I did were entirely social. But now, having settled into a new house and new routines, it feels wrong to start blogging about the new rides and routes I’m beginning to explore without catching up on the last couple I took part in before we left South Africa. Quite fittingly, one of those rides was the ride that got the whole cycling bug rolling in the first place.

Argus # 10 – 10th March 2019

A tenth Argus is a special event – so much so, the organizers give you a standout yellow coloured number and at the finish there’s an an extra 10th Edition medal waiting at the finish line. You’re probably also expected to get there faster by the time you’ve found your way around the iconic route for a tenth lap too – but that was never going to happen. Theunis and I started out with the objective of actually looking at the scenery and enjoying the route for a change, and that’s pretty much exactly what we did. In truth, neither of us had done much riding or training, so it wasn’t hard to convince each other that the only record we’d be aiming for was our slowest ever time. Something which proved remarkably easy on the day. Such was our level of relaxation that half a Tandem passed us – by which, I mostly mean a Tandem with only 1 rider. Although in addition to the missing stoker, one pedal and the saddle were also missing from the rear position too. All of which did beg the question whether any of it it had actually been whole at the start. As if to further underline our sedate pace, in the closing stages one of the charity buggies also came sprinting past us – an impressive feat given the combined weight of those. It wasn’t either of the ones being towed by friends (Nico & Richard), although we had seen and briefly chatted to Nico on the way around. The idea of sinking a couple of beers on the way around didn’t quite materialize, but we managed to rectify that at the Wannabees party at the end. Ultimately though, the thing which will live longest in my memory about possibly my last Cape Town Cycle Tour is that it is the only edition where I managed to cross the finish mat with the buddy I started the ride with.

Cederberg 100 Miler – April 2018 & 2019

The Cederberg 100 Miler is a gravel ride that has sat on my ‘must write about‘ list for the last eighteen months. Which is more than a little pathetic of me since I’ve done it twice now. Or more accurately – I’ve done it’s socially oriented little brother, the Two Day Trek twice. The actual 100 Miler is a full bore one day race across corrugated district roads, under the vagaries of Cederberg Autumn weather – which is to say, chilly early mornings and searing midday heat.

With 80kms of gravel and occasional sand each day, the two day version isn’t exactly an easy ride either. There’s no lack of climbing, in fact the first 40km of day 1, although it rolls up and down, is pretty much consistently uphill from the start in Clanwilliam. The gradient steps up in ferocity though after the first water point at the Algeria campsite. From there to the top of Uitkyk Pass is an unrelenting slog. The first edition we did in 2018, it was still gravel the whole way up. I remember seeing the entire pass snaking skyward in the distance as we spun out from the campsite. A van stopped close to the top was just a small glinting dot from our vantage point at the bottom. The 2018 edition was a clear example of the benefits of proper training – several weeks of solid Munga preparation saw me spinning to the top with relative ease. A year later it was a very different story. Despite now being mostly tarred, I still found myself walking an embarrassing amount of the last stretch to the top. I can’t even blame equipment, because the bike was exactly the same – the only difference was the lack of riding in my legs and lungs.

Theunis was also suffering in 2019 compared to the previous year, but his low spot came a few kilometres after the top of the pass, at the second water point. In fact at that stage, he got off and sat by the road vowing that only the sag wagon would get him further. I wasn’t convinced but failed in my attempts to talk him around. Even so, I took it fairly slowly over the start of the next section – fairly certain that after ten minutes or so off the bike, he’d get a second wind and push on again rather than sitting waiting an age for the sweep vehicle. I could have done with the company too, the corrugations were severe in parts, and the wind was beginning to howl. It’s impossible to be downhearted though when surrounded by such a breath-taking expanse of wild, and rugged scenery, so my spirits remained high despite the slow solo grind. One surprising bit of relief came from an unexpected route change – where in 2018, we’d swung right onto another stiff climb, this year we stayed left on a more level track through to a swooping descent into waterpoint 3. I hung around a bit, enjoying the excellent provisions and some banter with the volunteers. But eventually, with the afternoon shadows lengthening, I gave up waiting and headed out. The last section was an undulating district road due to the altered route, but fairly easy riding still. Sadly the free beer stop from 2018 was no more, although not a great loss really with the finish line & cold beers just a few kilometres further down the road. 

At this point I have to confess that what makes the Cederberg 100 Miler such a great event isn’t the riding at all. As lovely as the route is, the midway overnight camp spot is so memorable that you tend to forget about everything else. Afrikaans speakers have a wonderful expression – ‘tussen niks and nerens‘. Literally translated it means between nothing and nowhere, and it sums up Nuwerust Farm with poetic perfection. As you cross the finish line, there’s a bouma with a fire pit, bar, and canteen on the right. A little further along, pitched around the trunks of leafy trees, and stretched out along the grass are our tents – one for each of us. But beyond the boundaries of this little oasis, filled with the excited chatter of mountain bikers, lies the vast rocky wilderness that is The Cederberg. Once the sun dips behind the ridge of surrounding hills, the campsite sky becomes a dazzling, infinite, backdrop of stars.

Both year’s saw a few of our crew from Wannabees riding, but the 2019 edition saw almost our entire Wednesday group sat around the camp fire enjoying the hospitality. It’s a dangerous combination really, and all too easy to forget that an early-ish start and another 80km are waiting the next day. I definitely remember managing to pull myself away earlier in 2018, but I can also say that I enjoyed myself more in 2019. Unwittingly, another rider unknowingly added some, admittedly rather childish humor to our evening by being a complete doppelganger for Tinkie, one friend who hadn’t managed to join us. The startling resemeblance just seemed to become funnier as the night wore on and the drinks flowed ever more freely.

The day two route is where the two editions vary most significantly. In 2018 we started out with a monstrous climb, followed by three more tough climbs on the way to our finish point at Kaleo Guest Farm, above Ceres. In 2019, we headed back towards Clanwilliam but via a slightly modified route to the previous day. A steady uphill slog took us back out of the valley the way we had rolled in, never steep but fairly long. After that we veered left onto the rough farm track we had taken in to Nuwerust in 2018. Narrower, rockier and sandier than the district roads, although rewarded at the end with another excellent waterpoint. There wasn’t much comfort in remembering the stretch of route that lay just ahead though. Just beyond the farm, what had been a somewhat sketchy descent the previous year, would now become a lung and leg busting climb. Somehow, both T and I managed to spin our way the whole way up, but the exertion took a lot out of us, me especially. I knew I was going to pay a price for it later.

From the top of the climb, the route remained largely flat through waterpoint 2 and onto another new section of farm track, this time to the right of the district road. It was scenic and delightful for the most part, although the last couple of kilometres were bone-shakingly rocky.  As we exited back onto the district road again we came across a much less welcome. A group of buddies, Vernon included, were stood by the road gathered around a very ill looking Derek sat on the verge. His heart rate had spiked over 200, and despite having been off the bike for some time was still over 190. Somehow or other, the guys got him to the top of the pass just up ahead, and safely down the long snaking descent. But at Algeria he sensibly gave in to our nagging and decided to abandon. The day was gradually becoming properly warm – carrying on for another 40km of tough riding in hot conditions could have been life threatening.

Ridden in reverse, the final section to Clanwilliam held considerably more uphill than had been noticeable in the other direction. After a couple of short initial ramps which I did remember, our progress was punctuated by an unsuccessful stop to try and fix Vernon’s broken rear derailleur pulley. In the end, the sag wagon with Derek’s bike in it proved a much easier fix, and Vern sped off leaving T and I to slog on again. This was where the route surprised us. What seemed mildly up and down both times we’d ridden it the other way proved to have a couple of sizeable climbs on it. Neither of them massive by the standards of Uitkyk Pass, but long enough to become seriously energy sapping on a day now heading north of 32C. Despite the heat or unexpected ramps, up until the last 5km I can say the Cederberg 100 Miler is still some of the most enjoyable and scenic riding I’ve ever taken part in. For some odd reason though, just on the outskirts of town, the organizers decided to swing us right on a detour. After an enjoyable if slightly sketchy short descent, we dropped down onto a 3km sandpit past a fly infested, smelly trash heap. It certainly isn’t the memory I will take away from the two editions we rode, but tired and hot it was a totally flawed finale. By the time we rolled back onto tar and into town, I was (to use another Afrikaans expression) a little gatvol. It took a milk shake, a beer, and a Rooibos juice in the shade for that feeling to pass. Followed by the amusing (in hindsight) search for T’s car keys – which it turns out he had left in his tent at the campsite. I’m not even sure we can blame it on too many beers the night before, since he definitely had fewer than me.

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