Saturday, July 23, 2016



The on off sleeping in the extreme cold through the night in the Bosholweni forest made it seem like a marathon on its own! The night seemed endless and the watch hand easing towards 5am on day three had us readying to pack up ‘camp and start heading out.

We had about 30km to go to get to Ntsikeni lodge but first some work to do with an over 10km steep ascent to get through before that.

With fire smothered, packs and all packed up we were on our way at just after 5am. I knew of a spaza shop at the base of the Nsikeni climb where we could maybe get something to eat and water. I was praying it would be open but being so early in the morning the chances were going to be slim. A slight climb out the forest, a long steady descent into a dark valley and a river crossing with bikes over the back and crossing a pipeline over the next hour or so got us warmed up quite nicely. Our newcomer Gerald wanted to fill bottles from the river and it was frowned upon as to take water so low down in a rural set up was risking contracting some or other stomach ailment! He heeded the advice thankfully.

On district road again, dawn was breaking and it was good to see familiar surroundings. In 2014, I was thinking, it was maybe worthwhile getting lost then because now I recognized wrong turns as they appeared before me on this particular stretch. We were nearing the base of the Ntsikeni climb and so we stopped as the morning chill had started to ease up and so the base layers started to come off. I indicated to Neville and Gerald where the spaza shop was but going on 6.15am I was doubtful anything would be open. We rode up onto the short hill and entered the premises through an unlocked, dilapidated gate. Everything was closed up. Across the way we saw an African lady outside her house & kraal. We called out to her and in broken African language asked her where we could get ‘amanzi (meaning water in the African language). At the same time we asked quite loudly if she knew anyone from the Spaza shop? She beckoned to us to come over and bring our bottles to her. Gerald and I obliged. She was not sure about the Spaza shop but nevertheless proceeded back to her house and reappeared again with bottles re-filled. With many thanks all round, Neville at the same time, staying on the Spaza shop premises with our bikes let us know that someone was opening the shop from the inside!

Earliest customers ever!

6.30am and after a rough night out, I was ecstatic! We got stuck into tennis biscuits and coca cola bought from this rural of establishments and it may not have been the ideal breakfast yet it was way good enough for us Freedom Challengers! The thought that these rural people of Africa, willing to help so early in the morning, just to make a little difference in your day, went beyond gratifying! With a mouthful of crunchy biscuits washing it down with cold coke, sitting in rural South Africa watching the sunrise turn the African sky into a magical show of colours, with time seemingly standing still for just a moment, was immensely gratifying!

At just after 7am we were on the base of the Ntsikeni ascent already and so began a long pull all the way up.
Climb started...

One could not help but look back in awe every once in a while to take in the magnificent scenery on display. The navigation up the climb was on some really non ride rocky sections along with fairly decent track thrown into the mix. A mix of a little walking and riding became the norm. Our target was to get to Ntsikeni lodge by 10am for a proper breakfast and then move onto the emergency stop at Glen Edward where judging how we were feeling would stay over and recuperate properly. We still needed to cover some rough terrain and tricky navigation over this section.

After scaling the first fence of the journey around 10km from Ntsikeni lodge, which was pretty quick going seeing there were three of us, it was a dash up the final stretch of mountain over rough bumpy jeep track and an undulating last two kilometer track for the ride into Ntsikeni lodge.
The run into Ntsikeni

We arrived at Ntsikeni at 10h00!

Mr Ngcobo and his family were expecting us and what a great humble giant of a man! We were ushered to the dining table and fed the most delicious soup as well as homemade bread along with juice, coffee and fruit on hand to replenish lost energy and shattered spirits but yet, not broken. Gerald also took the opportunity to hand out ‘gifts' as he started ditching ‘stuff from his backpack to make it lighter because boy! was his pack not only big! But heavy! There were some very big smiles in the house when he was done being so generous!

Some photos were taken and we then said our humbled goodbyes after feeling totally revived after the fantastic hospitality afforded to us, even though short.

Mr Ngcobo & family

We left Ntsikeni at 11.30 and started our run to Glen Edward. We had to negotiate the infamous Politique Kraal section where many had got it wrong. This was also the scene where I took my nasty tumble in 2014 that ultimately put paid to my race and paying the price for a DNF.

The terrain through the Ntsikeni Reserve was mostly grassy jeep track and rough in places feeling like you were continually riding over grass covered mole hills. Neville and I both riding full suspension bikes, I couldn’t but not help feeling for Gerald who was riding a rigid frame bike.

The navigation went without a glitch using navigation memory of my previous attempt. Before we knew it we were eventually through the Politique Kraal section of hills and ravines as well as my mental block had also been slain with no tumbles or accidents taking place as in 2014. For now, I was home free! We had quick interval stops to snack on whatever we had to keep the energy levels up. The weather had turned to mostly overcast after midday and the air was developing an early chill.
On the way to Politique Kraal
We followed the farm rode taking us to a tar rode to cross and then we were on our final stretch to Glen Edward and Charles and Sheila Raven’s superb down to earth, farm style hospitality at its best!

Under a dark fully overcast sky, we arrived at Glen Edward at 4.30pm.

The warm nature of our hosts was absolutely awesome! There was a Freedom Challenge rider, Carl Scholtz present who had decided to abandon his race due to a back injury issue. Disappointed, he was waiting for a lift home that he had arranged. Carl who had done Freedom Challenge before had some valuable advice to share about the trail. We were commended for the time taken and navigation efforts for the day of which we were quite chuffed about. Neville and I, should have been at Masakala and were technically half a day behind schedule but knew we would make it up soon.

After a magic shower and an awesome ‘family affair’ dinner around the table with another Freedom rider arriving, Gary, it was final preps concluded. Neville would fail in his attempt at sorting his rear brake issue on his bike that had been plaguing him. (He would eventually ride the whole distance 500+km from Pietermaritzburg to Rhodes with no rear brakes) A call was logged to the race office for a whole new brake unit to be arranged, ordered and waiting in Rhodes.
Charles & Sheila Raven
With the outside temperature plummeting around Glen Edward, it was off to bed for a much needed proper few hours sleep and excitement for what day four would bring....

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