Wednesday, October 19, 2016



The sleep in was rather welcomed due to only grabbing some breakfast at 8am. The Gamkaskloof was cold. Bitterly cold! In the valley seeped in history as we were informed partly by our host over breakfast, we hurriedly made hast as we needed to get going as an after 8am start to the day was pushing it rather late.

We needed to cover a little bit of distance along the valley floor first and make our way to "the ladder" which would be our exit point out of the Gamkaskloof. As we packed our backpacks with offered sandwiches for along the way we saddled up and made our way through the valley passing the odd isolated houses dotted around dense vegetation along the way, it was incredibly cold! In the valley with damp and mud patches littered on the track we were on and with no sun up yet, the massive shadow deep in this vegetated valley harbored cold that bit right down to the bone and all the gear donned wasn't helping to ward off the onslaught. It became a small battle to keep the handle bars focused on the path we were on with the never ending shivering while riding. Shoes, long tights, bib shorts, thermal top, ride top, fleece top, glove liners, winter gloves, a wind proof jacket and two buffs covering head, nose and mouth to stay warm didn't help much.

We were praying for sunrise!

After a short while riding undulating jeep track, we entered a section of road and then a descent further down into another section of valley with towering mountains all round. I seemed to recognize by pictures I had seen whilst studying the Freedom Challenge route that we were nearing "the ladder" also known as Die Leer. The height of the mountains around us made me a little apprehensive. "The ladder" was a 1.3km single track from the bottom to the top, of loose rock, gravel and stone which one had to negotiate and could take over an hour to summit. Once on the bottom of the valley floor again and riding close to a stream flowing nearby, we found the poplar trees we had to seek out and headed for them. 

We crossed the flowing stream through dense reeds and tracks probably made by challengers before us. We pushed around the poplar trees and found ourselves standing in front of a solid wall of rock. On this wall, we found a small ledge, not much wider than two shoe breadth which ran up the side of this wall about 5m to another upper ledge.  

Behind the poplar trees. Photo - Courtesy P Oosthuizen

With bike over the right shoulder and placing one foot in front of the other while leaning against the wall to the left edging upwards, it was concentration tuned. One little slip and you would find yourself sliding down the side with definite consequences for sure.

Once all three of us were on the upper ledge, it seemed there was a gradual track veering off to the right with a very subtle climb to it around the mountain before us. I was thinking and probably hoping that the track to the right was the one to be taken, yet it turned out a rough, dilapidated, rocky, loose track to our left going straight up the mountain was the track we were instructed to take as per map. This was the start of an incline of note.

And so the onslaught began!

The Ladder - "Die Leer" was used many years ago in the war between the Boers and the British and served as an escape route for the Boer army. Gerald sprang into "mountain buck" mode and was moving rather quickly up this treacherous climb. There was no place for riding. There was no place to just stop and rest based on the steepness of the climb and the obstacles that one had to get over and overcome. I had been nervous about this climb from day one. There were ledges one had to lift your bike onto and then body had to follow. Being hearing impaired my balance was my biggest concern and I had to overcome my fear of falling backwards which is a form of bathophobia, while climbing some of the steep inclines. We were basically climbing the sheer face of a mountain at one small stage of it and became quite harrowing at times for me. About half way up we managed to find a spot and stopped to take a quick break and induce something to eat for energy.

Sitting and looking out from where we were sitting it was incredible to think how we were managing the climb so far, even though slow going, when far below we could see the farmhouse just before the poplar trees we had started from. 

Up the Ladder - Photo Courtesy Andrew King

After a couple of minutes, we were up and at it again! After a few slips and stumbles the terrain started to become a little easier and finding a more distinct path made for easier trans-versing. Around an hour and half later we popped out at the top at the picnic table summit of The Ladder to much jubilation. Another quick break and photos all round we were on our way again with still some ground to cover. The Ladder had certainly sapped some of my energy reserves.

Our plan initially was to push through to Anysberg after Rouxpos. We would see how far we 
got. The loose shale jeep track went on endlessly through continuous flowing landscape with ups and downs and eventually through the warm midday and early afternoon sun Gerald and I were chasing Neville off the last of the descent down to a main district road that would take us onto Rouxpos.

A quick lunch snack at the "to hell and gone" sign post and we were on our way riding a better tempo than experienced earlier. Its been one hell of a ride so far and whilst riding the open district road en-route to Rouxpos I couldn't help but reflect on this a few times. 

About 8km from Rouxpos we left the district road taking a left turn. Immediately after this we managed to find a farm house with a big Coca Cola board which would reflect that there was a shop on the premises. We pulled into the farmyard and were delighted to find a fully stocked tuck shop. Cokes, bar ones were bought and were wolfed down while entertaining some spectators who were in awe about our journey so far and at the same time thinking we were mad.

A steady climb out from here and we were met with an awesome descent for about 5km. I recall for no rhyme or reason, I felt an overwhelming sense of emotions flowing over me while hurtling down this descent. I think the build up of getting through the Gamkaskloof, The Ladder and just generally how far I had come on a bike just hit home! Without holding back, I indulged the sensation and wasn't sure if it was tears from the cold wind dusting my eyes or if it was tears of achievement this far having attained, brushing off my cheeks.

We arrived and pulled into the farmyard of Rouxpos just before 5.30pm with the intention of leaving around midnight for Anysberg and then onto Montagu.

We met our hosts and explained to them what our plans were. Over some cold juice they pointed out a few logistic reasons on why we should stay and rather leave in the morning. Anysberg was in the middle of nowhere and unmanned. It would be better to have a good meal and sleep and a hearty breakfast and then push off in the morning. We could then push through to Montagu. We were persuaded!

All settled in, a hot shower and unpacked and repacked for the following day we sat down to awesome fresh farm food and good company around the dinner table. Ronnel's waffle and ice cream was the final nail after a fairly hard day! And she nailed it!

Neville , Gerald and I closing down for the night, knew now, we were nearly home! 

Yet, we just didn't know it yet! It was still going to take us another four and a half days to conclude our chapter on the Freedom Trail.....

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