The Voortrekkers who built the wagon track we rode up and down today were hardcore, and clearly they were desperate to reach the orchards of the Witzenberg Valley.
The trail, and I use that term loosely, winds 1000m into the sky over about 10km. At times it looks no more than two and half metres wide and littered with boulders and big rocks. On my ascent this morning, exhausted riders jammed the route pushing the bikes for long sections, which could barely be ridden (by most of the field, though I’m sure the pros zipped up and down).
As the path wound relentlessly up to a neck, I tried to imagine fruit-laden wagons hauled by sweating beasts, moving goods from farm to market. But all my mind would conjure up were dramatic scenes of Voortrekkers, beasts and wagons tumbling down the slope to their deaths.
Eight hours later, when I had to ride back down this path, such thoughts were far from my mind. All I could think was: brake, sore hands, stand in saddle, sore legs, sit, sore bum, sharp turn, skid, why are the brakes on the bike behind me screeching so loudly?
Tonight we are camped for the third night in a row on a wine farm called Saronsberg, just outside Tulbagh. Steep-cliffed mountains surround us on all sides, notably Klein Winterhoek to the north, a site of epic adventures by the mountaineers hanging by ropes and base jumpers and various other madmen.
Yesterday our 90km route effectively skirted the valley, following the upper edges of the orchards. Today we were sent straight up the wagon trail to our east and down into the gorgeous Witzenberg Valley.
Witzenberg is a plateau sitting at about 800m altitude, while we are now at 200m. I have no energy to research why it is so lush, but it is – cooler perhaps, temperate, winter rainfall. We raced through countless lines of trees bulging with bright red apples.
Farmworkers and local schoolchildren went hysterical as we passed through their villages, high-fiving lines of children all trying to smash our palms as hard as they could. We effectively skirted this valley too, just above the orchards, although my perceptions became increasingly blurred as we proceeded back to the wagon trail and back down to Tulbagh.
That was 104km and it took Team Mail & Guardian, that’s my partner Justin and I, 8 hours and 20 minutes. I have never ridden my bike for so long in my life.
Cape Argus’s Murray Williams last year called the Epic a travelling circus, and it is. Hundreds of red branded riders’ tents huddle in the middle of sprawling infrastructure: bike mechanics, massage tents, a bike park, eateries, a media centre, race office, chill tent and so on.
As we speak, a massive crew of volunteers and others is putting the finishing touches on a second race village in Worcester. And tomorrow morning they will pack up at Saronsberg while we ride 125km from here to Worcester, where we’ll spend two more nights.
And now I am falling asleep over my keyboard. I am sorry I haven’t the energy to craft a beautifully structured blog, and I hope the kind people at Thought Leader have edited my ridiculous mistakes, otherwise this will have to do. I just want to tell everyone where we are and what we’re doing. Night.