After a restful night sleep, I was up at around 3.45am with Gary already leaving Glen Edward on his next leg of his journey. The rest of the trio of Gerald and Neville were also dragging themselves out of bed too. The backpack repacking ritual in place in-between getting kitted up and being served coffee by Carl making himself useful which we really appreciated, as well as the Ravens already in the kitchen slapping breakfast of egg and bacon together as well as the arrival of Freedom Challengers and race snakes, Tim James and Mike Woolnough, made for much of a buzz around the farmhouse!
While we tucked into breakfast, the two new arrivals settled down for what they termed would be a quick cat nap!
At 5.30am we said our heartfelt goodbyes to the Ravens and we were out the door, through the farm gate, down the short farm entrance and swung a left, heading south for Masakala 60km away.
In the pre-dawn darkness, the air was crisp and chilled but warmer than expected. The morning riding went with no real incidents and went well relating to navigation until a little later. The normal chitchats, stops to remove layers, having a snack and taking a photo or too was pretty much it. There was a fair amount of climbing again, done on moderate to rocky district road. At around 12km out of Glen Edward we crossed the Mngweni River leaving the Kwa Zulu Natal province and marking the entrance into the rural landscapes of the Eastern Cape province.
About 20km into our morning ride; we then turned off the district road just past a big school and had an all in all 12km track to follow which would take us through some villages and massive wattle bush plantations and more. It was still relatively early and the school was abuzz with curious school kids either on the school premises hanging onto the fence watching us pass by with much cheers and talking as well as more kids making their way up the footpaths we were on, making their way from the village to school. All around us, the area known as the Mbombo were dots of rondawels, huts or small houses littered around the landscape and hills. We were definitely in rural Eastern Cape!
We left the village area and on the outskirt stopped to orientate ourselves as we were about to enter the wattle plantation we spoke of earlier. There were two routes but if you got it wrong you could lose valuable time trying to find your way out. We decided to take the route that I knew from 2014 but had to be careful popping out the other side as there was a turn to take down to a river to cross and not finding it could be a problem. I lost 3 hours here in 2014. The descent through the plantation went with no problems, being cautious not to get wattle tree branches that were lying around wrapped into your wheels as this would surely rip a spoke or few! Then the uncertainty came when popping out. With much debating and riding up and down for around 15 minutes, along came our ‘guide, in the form of veteran Mike Woolnough who had obviously had enough of his short catnap and high tailed out of Glen Edward not long after we left. Mike knew the way and so we just followed his lead. We descended further and crossed the river together. A quick sit down above the river bank to remove some leggings and more layers and a quick chat with Mike, we were off. Mike had decided to try a new route to see if it was faster but also in the vicinity of the map directions. He took a tiger line approach over a massive hill in front of us of which we went around the right side as per the map directions given. This took us up a path which became noticeably steeper as we ascended the valley. We were soon on a short piece of district road taking us higher up and over the other side.
Once over, we pulled into a Spaza shop off the left of the village we were passing through before we re-entered more tracks and footpaths that we were to take. There was no sign of Mike during our ascent. More coca cola and biscuits bought and while sitting perched on the Spaza shop stairs, Mike came riding past with a wave and as though he was in a real hurry. Mike had made it known to others prior to his start , he was looking at going faster this year!
|The Spaza Shop|
It wasn’t long, it was backpack on, bikes mounted and we were off again. We eventually left all traces of any village and made our way across a dry grassy water shed within a wide valley headed for an old abandoned farm house. I knew where we were headed and grateful it was mid morning. The darkness of 2014 made it very tricky! Once at the abandoned farmhouse, the valley became narrower and slightly steeper as we tracked down the path through dense wattle bush behind the farmhouse that would take us up to a saddle that we had to cross much higher up. The rustic, rough lay of the land and scenery I could not help notice. It held its own form of beauty and hardship for the people that lived here. All was good and done making our way up with some effort, concentrating, riding, a little walking in places where one couldn’t place a wheel or turn the pedal and then we crossed another small dried out river which resembled a stream and a final pump up to a district road that would take us to Masakala. The ride to Masakala from here was pleasant in that there was a worthwhile long decent through another settlement and a relatively flat ride after this before riding up the last steep climb into Masakala.
We had been talking while riding that we needed to run some bike maintenance as our bikes were starting to creak and groan with all the mud, dust and water having filtered their way into every nook and cranny. Brakes were feeling spongy and I was concerned about my front suspension that didn’t seem engaging. The next stop was Malekholonyane which was another 60km away which would require us to cross a flood plain, negotiate the Mpharane mountain ridge line as well as descend off it.
We arrived at Masakala guest house in the village at 13h30. This consist of two large rondawels that house some bunk beds, kitchen as well as ablution facility. We decided to stay. (We would take 8hrs the next day just to get to Malekholonyane. In hindsight, a good call considering we would have arrived at 21h30 but probably not, getting lost in the dark and freezing cold instead)
|Masakala Guest house|
Bikes were cleaned and lightly serviced in freezing temperatures as the afternoon progressed. In the time spent at Masakala, we met incoming Freedom Challengers during the afternoon. Tim who popped in and left, Caren & Tony, Liehann & Werner arrived and all slept in. Werner was to serve a six hour time penalty for obtaining a replacement bike frame after he broke his riding into the Ntsikeni Reserve the night before.
A mention needed to go to the African ladies that looked after us at Masakala and hats went off to them for being available at all hours of the day and night to feed us, do washing for those that required done and doing all this without any inkling or feeling that they were doing us a favour.
We set about studying maps for the next stage to come and decided on a 5.30am exit in the morning for Malekholonyane….