Plans that go awry become adventures – if you let them.
It all started with seeing a cycling friend Nigel Laver posting on Facebook that he was considering doing the Rapha 500km challenge, which he did the previous year.
I at first thought it was one of those crazy ass, super man type challenges (Nigel did it in one ride the year before), but then I realised you could break it up as you wanted to, to do 500km in the 8 days from Christmas eve to New Years. So because I am a dumb cyclist, I started thinking that I could do this. My plan started to formulate, I would book us a place to stay somewhere that we could get plenty of riding done and my rides would be very flat off road and on road but for once I would avoid single track. I found a place by the Vaal and most of my cycling friends were keen. Then one of my cycling besties, Lisa broke her foot and this plan did not work out. I had two things in mind with my routes: they had to be flat and they had to be safe. My plans all went completely awry but wow what an adventure.
This has been the best and worst challenge in many ways!!!
I had many high points but I think finding out that the giant fish bowl we were cycling in is a world heritage site where an asteroid hit millions of years ago was very big moment for me. I saw so many amazing things and discovered the beautiful village called Henley on Klip. So many strangers, friends and family members did very kind things to help our adventure continue.
The worst part was definitely our company car being stolen. That was day 7 and I only had 30km left and I decided I was not going to let thieving scum take this away from me.
Day 1 – 40 km Riverstone Lodge to Caves.
Day one was Xmas Eve. Michael was doubtful about my plans and said perhaps I should leave it for next year. The reason I started this Challenge was because Michael was so doubtful and because I was in a bad mood so decided to run away from my family and cycle instead of preparing for the Xmas Eve party.
When I arrived at Riverstone lodge, the security guard looked at me as if I had lost all my marbles, it was midday and about 30 degrees. I cycled to the Caves and back at the Cradle of Mankind. Which is a world heritage site. Really exciting that I cycled at two world heritage sites while doing this challenge.
I stopped halfway at the caves.
When I got back a few hours later I was a few kms short of 40km so I cycled circles around the parking area. The security guard was even more puzzled. He looked at me in astonishment and said, “You really like cycling and it is so hot.”
My mind was made up, I decided I was doing the challenge and I can be quite stubborn when I decide something.
Day 2 – 70km Bidon to Magalies
Our Xmas Eve party was a blast but I only had 2 drinks because I had the Challenge in mind. Michael on the other hand had a lousy hangover. We first had some family time watching grandson open his prezzies and then we were on our way. It was another crazy hot day. Michael suggested we do the Magalies ride, not a safe route for two cyclists alone but we figured it being Xmas day, criminals might be not out looking for bicycles.
We started at Bidon Bistro, the heat and the hills were killer as well. I was so happy when I got to Maboneng and the cafes were open. We got ice cold cooldrinks and they bar tender kindly filled my backpack up with ice again. Also exciting about this for anyone reading this that does not know, Maboneng is the museum that first showcased Homo Naledi and currently they are there again.
We did not go all the way to Magaliesburg, we cycled up the climb before the descent and turned around, I was aiming for 70km and having started at Bidon I had enough distance. The short cut back was bliss an extremely long downhill.
Despite his hangover Michael halfway had an argument with me because he wanted to do a longer route back, I won, the route back he wanted had a climb from hell, and I already felt as if I was completely roasted.
Day 1 and Day 2 were more like work than pleasure but I still wanted to continue.
Day 3 – 68km Middle of nowhere ending in Henley on Klip.
I sat up quite late planning our route for Boxing Day. I had mapped out a lovely flat route. Start point was a bit of a problem. I decided to use a Cafe du Cirque as our start point. Michael made a Meccano holder for my cell phone so that we could use it for directions. We arrived at Cafe du Cirque and it was closed. We drove around looking for a safe place to park. Ironically this is where we were worried about the car being stolen. After driving back and forth looking for safe parking, Michael said that seeing that the challenge was more important to me than him he would follow me. Seeing that I would have him behind me for safety I could chose any route I wanted.
I cycled on quite a nice tar road for a while, it started raining quite hard and I had to eventually get in the car and wait for a while because there was hail.
Despite the hail the conditions were great and it was mostly overcast and much cooler for the rest of the day.
I found a lovely ground road and we followed it, then we arrived at a village, I first took a wrong turn with a dead end to the rubbish dump. I turned around and we ended up at a big river. I thought it was a the Vaal river.
We found a way to a bridge to the other side. Then we approached the main village which turned out to be Henley on Klip.
The river was Klip river. I cycled around the lovely village for quite a while looking for an open restaurant, we were both quite hungry at this stage.
Eventually we found a lovely pub. The owners were so kind. They let us take our bicycles to the back of the pub. The pub was very unusual, drinks, food, art work for sale, clothes for sale, jewellery for sale and a barber all in one.
After lunch we started off in a different direction from Henley on Klip and discovered gorgeous farm roads and left civilisation behind completely.
I had a wonderful afternoon at one stage, I semi started a stampede of buck they ran all along the fence while I road along the road. As I was at my target for the day, Michael asked if he could ride and I could follow him with the car.
When we got to the tar, petrol was getting low so we googled the nearest petrol station and Michael cycled there while I drove behind him.
So your legs get a bit tired, your body a little tired but boy oh boy saddle sore agony started to set in. I have a fantastic saddle I have done many 100km plus rides with it with no saddle sore but from consistent long distance riding and gazillions of blisters in my unmentionables, I now know it is time to invest in expensive good quality cycle shorts.
Day 4 A Spoke in the Works 58 km
We both enjoyed Henley on Klip and we decided to go and ride there again. I convinced Michael as we had safe parking for the car that he should cycle with me.
We parked at the pub again and I went in to the loo, the owner asked me about my ride and said he would send out a search party, I laughed and said that I was sure we would be back. If it wasn’t for Michael’s ingenuity we might have had trouble getting back after all.
As with every day with this challenge our plans to get going early went wrong and we again started at about 10h00.
We started out the same way we did the second part of the previous day. My plan was simple to follow the ground road until the end.
20km into the ride and 20km from any form of civilisation a spoke snapped on my bike. Michgyver in his awesomeness made me a spoke out of cable ties.
So this put a spoke in the works, and Michael gave me strict instructions not to chase downhills (I like going fast downhills and don’t believe in using those coward levers), he also told me to put my bike in a very easy gear and to take it very easy going up hills (I always do this so that was no difference for me.)
The cable tie spoke worked very well.
Eventually we came to a T-junction.
Left downhill and right uphill.
We did a bit of the downhill but decided it would be a lot of work to return. So we went back up and decided to climb to the top of the hill. The area is called Welverdiend in English that means well deserved. The climb is extremely long and quite steep, when you get to the top you really deserve the view.
After the climb we decided to head back to the car and to maybe put in extra kms in Henley as the cable tie spoke was a bit of a risk.
There is a country school and written by hand is a board that says, “We strive to great hyts” , I was amused, as spelling was obviously not one of the heights they were after.
We had a late lunch in Henley and I was a bit lazy and very, very saddle sore, so we headed home.
Day 5 Highway to Hell 68km
We decided that we would go ride around Parys. I had visions of lovely long flat smooth ground roads. We also decided that we might look for accommodation and sleep over. We packed clothes in case we decided to sleep over.
How innocent I was before this ride with my visions set on a nice easy gentle ride through the country.
I went into the Parys Information Centre. The friendly lady gave me a map and showed me a route. It all looked so short and easy on that little map. She showed me the Vredevort Inn which is the halfway mark and said maybe I should start from there. She also said that the longer route had terrible climbs. I thought so naively that I was taking a gentle and easy ride. I pointed at the hotel on the map and asked her about how far she thought it was from the start point. She told me she had no idea, it might be 17km.
We headed out on the road the directions were easy at every t-junction we would turn left.
I was cheerful and felt I could deal with this challenge despite the heat.
As soon as we left the tar the ground road was rutty, rocky and rough but we were sure this would be temporary.
It wasn’t temporary, and there were nasty climbs. I also at this stage needed the loo, going in the bushes was not an option, both sides of the road were lined with thorn bushes continuously.
After some climbing we came to a fork we crossed the river with a small bridge. We saw donkeys below. Michael took pictures of the asses by my ass but it didn’t quite work.
A few meters from this was a restaurant or something that looked very hill billy. Michael would insisted we wait till we get to the Vredefort Inn as he has seen too many horror movies involving hill billies in isolated places.
We both stupidly thought that the inn was close. We passed a family cycling the way we had come, they were not holiday makers they were commuting. I realise now how tough they are because they obviously were riding to Parys and back regularly for groceries etc.
We got to a resort, I went in to see if I could find a toilet but there was nothing.
About 5km further and many more rough climbs I felt I could not hold it. I was ready to take on the thorn bushes if the hotel was more than 10km away. I had visions of having a porcupine bottom.
I took out my phone while I was looking up the distance on Google maps a couple stopped to check if we were alright. They also did not know the area but Google maps showed we were 9km away.
The heat and the roughness of the road was taking its toll. We came around a corner and we saw this sign.
I felt like a bit like a desert traveller must feel when reaching an oasis. After going to the loo we had many cool drinks.
Thabela Thabeng actually has mountain bike trails, I will one day return to try their trail.
As you can see below our bikes were exhausted but they had a good rest under a shady tree.
We were not feeling much stronger than the bicycles. We naively thought we were through the hardest part.
Back on our bicycles it was just a few kilometres and we came to Vredefort Inn it was 27km from where we started. We saw that it was a world heritage site and we were impressed that this was our second world heritage site in our 500km challenge. We did not know why it was a world heritage site.
The rough hilly ride to Vredefort was a walk in the park compared to what came next. The road remained rocky and rutty but we were met with a climb that takes you into outer space and I assure you it is way better to go with NASA.
Michael had to do a lot of encouraging at this point. He cycled back down and told me I didn’t have much left to go and there was a huge shady area where I could take a break. 2 hours later and 15 meters further I was at the top of the nasty climb. That wasn’t the last climb but it was the worst one.
Fortunately for a little while we were back on tar which gave my much downstairs a bit of a break. We had another nasty climb and then we finally came out by the Skuilpspruit bridge. There were some guys fishing, no shops or anything to replenish fluid.
I thought that there would be cafes or restaurants soon. You pass a little resort that does not look as if it is running and then their is nothing but thorn trees again.
I was tired and very saddle sore but fortunately for a while there was a long straight road. On the next climb we stopped and discussed strategy. I only needed to get to 65km for the day. We realised this route was a lot longer than we anticipated. Our water was getting rather low and getting any was not looking promising. I looked on Google maps we were at about 50km and Google maps showed 40km to Parys. We then decided that Michael would cycle back to Parys and I would stop cycling at 65km and wait for him to rescue me with the car.
There was another nasty climb and then the road became smoother and reasonably flat.
I got to my distance and sat in the shade opposite a farm house.
I squeezed the last drops of hydrate out of my water bottle and then I held my camelbak in the air and squeezed the last drops of water out of it.
I took out my phone and started looking for a place to stay. It was short notice so I just took the first place I could find which was a guest house in Parys. We did not really need scenic accommodation as we just needed to sleep over and cycle again. While looking for accommodation I discovered that this is the site where a astroid hit millions of years ago and why it felt like we were cycling in and out of giant fish bowl. It actually is a giant fishbowl.
After a few minutes a man stopped to find out if I was alright. I told him I was fine and told him about the challenge. He said he had not been mountain biking for a few years but I inspired him to start again. I asked him if he had water and he said yes. He gave me an almost full water bottle. That was one of the best gifts a stranger ever gave me.
Shortly after this man left I saw a wonderful site Michael came driving along flashing the car lights, long before I expected, it turned out Google maps was wrong, I was only about 800m from tar road and 10km from Parys.
At the same time he arrived it started raining quite hard. I was opposite a farm house. The owners of the house came out to see if we were alright. Michael bought heaps of ice cold cool drinks they were divine!!!
We went for dinner in Parys the rain was belting down and even though they assured us that it is safe they let us bring our bicyles into the court yard of the restaurant. There was a family sitting next us Mom, Grandpa and son, the son cycled to Kilamanjaro, making my 500km seem insignificant, it took him 3 months. After dinner we found our guest house. It was a Wendy hut in a garden so not really fantastic but it was clean and had everything we needed for the night.
Day 6 Nasty head wind 57km
Day 6 was my hardest ride we knew where flat smooth roads were around Parys and headed for them but our bodies were broken from the day before’s ride. Also there was a constant head wind and it seemed to turn every time we turned. We first cycled the one side of Parys then the other. As we were heading back to the restaurant across the road from the pub, a father and son stopped us to ask about cycling routes, we explained the route we took the previous day and how tough it is, warned them to take lots of water and gave them our map. The father especially is a seasoned and hardened rider I am sure he could manage it.
We went to the pub, had lunch then headed for our car. When we got to the car the lady from information and another lady, both came to greet us they said they were getting worried. We chatted for a while and headed home.
I was supposed to do a second ride to get in a few more kms at home but I was very tired. We stopped at a Dischem. The pharmacist came to chat to me. I had googled a cream to help with my saddle sore. He googled to find a similar cream as the one I saw was a UK cream. I told him about my challenge and he wished me luck for the rest of my ride.
Day 7 Harties, Cradle and car theft 100km
Michael and I decided to go and cycle the Harties route that we do with the Cradle and Beyond group. Despite being sore and tired I loved it because it is such a beautiful route.
We started at French toast and did the loop around the damn doubling back on smooth roads to add kms.
For those who have gone over this bridge you will know that riding over it is awesome because with my fear of heights I even struggle pushing over this bridge.
When we got back to French toast we did not feel like waiting for a table so we went to a pub but we shared a small basket but it was way too heavy a meal.
Cycling after lunch was extremely hard we did some back and forth also it became very hot and I lost my mojo completely. We decided to drive back home have a rest and then finish the 100km for the day.
After much debate we decided to go to the Cradle for our last 40km. Michael’s argument being that we could use an easy straight route and I could finish my 100km for the day with much more ease. It being a bit quiet and late afternoon, we decided parking at Bidon would be best because they installed security cameras recently.
When I was close to finishing my 100km for the day, Michael went to fetch the car as I did not feel up to cycling up the hill to Bidon. Much to my surprise he came cycling back. I thought perhaps Bidon had locked their gates. He told me that the car was stolen. I told my friends on Whatsapp. My one friend messaged Garth the owner at Bidon. At this stage I still thought that perhaps they had towed the car but Garth phoned me immediately to say he had seen my car as he was leaving and that he would check camera surveillance.
I was in shock and on the way we bought a pizza to eat after the ride. I know it sound silly now considering the car and all the things in it but at that moment I was furious that they had my pizza. So many things are lost to us now besides the car, unfortunately due to the days of cycling we had lots of back up things in the car that would normally not travel with us.
I did finish 100km I felt I could not let the thieves take that away from me. I was determined to finish the challenge. A good friend Maritha came to fetch us and our bicycles. My daughter’s boyfriend could not fetch us because he does not have a bicycle rack. We went to the police station and giving the report took hours. We only got home after midnight.
Michael still had to change the code on our electric gate when we get home, the thieves have our Garmin and our house keys. We also had to latch the door that night.
Day 8 Last haul 30km.
Our good cycling friend Robert who owns Handy Hardware, told us to come to him for locks. My daughter’s boyfriend drove there to get the locks. Robert gave us a massive discount on the locks. We could not go anywhere until we changed the locks and also did not have keys to get out of the house. Raewyn and Jeandre got back just after midday and we set off with our friend Lisa’s house as our half way stop.
When we arrived home my daughter and her boyfriend came running out with the bubbly.
What I learned and got out of the ride
- A good saddle is not enough, you need quality cycle shorts for continuous long distance.
- I learned that I am capable of much more than I thought.
- I learned that I can get back on the saddle and ride the next day no matter how sore or tired.
- Sunblock and water have always been a priority but insect repellent is also very important.
- Random acts of kindness from strangers work as fuel they give you an extra 10km when you feel washed out.
- South Africa is such a gorgeous country with so many treasures best experienced by bicycle.
- When you are angry with your family always go cycle.
- Horrible things like car theft happen when you least expect it but there are far more kind people in this world.
- Next year I am doing bigger distances in the first few days and taking a rest day.
- My patient Michael can only do this with me once. He has advised me next year I am on my own, at least that is what he thinks, I know he has a year to forget how boring waiting for me in the heat became.