Showing You Quality Articles…
ShowMe™ and Country Life bring you some of this magazine’s top notch content right here on our site. Country Life magazine captures the essence of life in the South African countryside.
Country Life – the Real Heart of the countryside! See below for more info on the last issue and find out how to subscribe.
Biking the Baviaans
Text and photographs by Dale R Morris
Call me old fashioned, but before recently committing myself to a 350km biking trip through the Eastern Cape’s Baviaanskloof, my idea of a good bike ride involved a picnic, a bottle of ginger beer and some nice sunny weather.
Surely one should be enjoying oneself whilst pedalling through the countryside, the breeze tousling your hair, the scents of wild flowers, fynbos and pine swirling up your nostrils, a small dog yapping happily beside you, a smile upon his face?
Ahhh, the idyllic bliss of it all – but sadly, depending on your viewpoint of course, this sort of countryside biking has become unfashionable, replaced instead by high-tech machines, competitive personalities and day-Glo spandex costumes.
These days, cycling enthusiasts, no matter what the age, and there are a great many of them in this country, like to push their bikes and their respiratory systems to the outer limits in order to have a good time.
It’s a way of keeping fit, I suppose, and it must appeal to those of a competitive nature. But by and large, biking is still one of the best excuses you can have for getting you off the sofa and out into the countryside. It can be hard work though!
For most of the Baviaans Mega ride I found myself huffing and puffing furiously just to keep the rest of the brightly attired participants in my sight.
My thighs were screaming at me, my bum had gone numb, my eyes stung with sweat and sunblock and my tummy protested over all the high protein, high-powered, extra-caffeine-infused gloop I had been putting into it.
Was this fun? Well, the other 16 participants seemed to think so. They were loving every kilometre of it, evident by their beaming smiles and easy breathing. Maybe I should have trained?
The Baviaanskloof Mega (emphasis on the word ‘mega’ here) bike tour is a slack packing venture of sorts. Participants bring their own bikes, although bikes can be arranged, and they must also bring their own spandex lycra Freddy Mercury stage outfits (or whatever it is that biking folk like to wear these days). But the rest is taken care of.
For five days, all one needs to worry about is turning the pedals and pulling the brakes. Baggage is transported, accommodation is provided, food is cooked, and there are guides, a medical back-up team, a rescue service and back-up vehicles, all of which are supplied by the Mountain Biking south Africa tour company.
“Jolly good,” I thought to myself. “should be a piece of cake.” How wrong I was.
At one point I threw up in a pretty protea bush at the top of a particularly gruelling climb, and whenever I stopped for a rest – which was frequently – I would have little black dots floating around in front of my eyes.
However, despite the personal adversity I found myself facing, I still have to admit that I was really enjoying the scenery.
How could you not? The Baviaanskloof World Heritage Park in the Eastern Cape is, after all, one of the most scenically stunning places in all of Africa.
Inclusive of both the fynbos-covered Baviaans and Kouga Mountains, the Baviaans Mega Reserve consists of roughly 192 000ha of protected habitats, with a rural enclave situated in the valley in-between them.
A dirt road (designed by Thomas Bain), which traverses some seriously beautiful scenery, bisects the reserve, passing through forests, fynbos meadows, and an agricultural landscape of Karoo sheep and lime-green onion fields.
Dramatic rock formations of the most vivid reds and oranges dominate the valley walls, whilst secret side kloofs and slot canyons branch off in all directions.
There are even black rhinos and buffalos in there, which adds an additional touch of excitement to what is already a rip-roaring ride (for those who can handle it).
A high road to the north of the main kloof itself (simply called T2) runs above and parallel to the central reserve road, making for a fabulous circular route, and one that seems designed specifically for mountain bike enthusiasts.
The first day of the tour was perhaps the hardest, as it was a mostly uphill affair. I had purchased a special suit, which gripped my less-than-perfect form like a python gripping its prey, and I had got myself a lightweight helmet and a pair of those robotic wraparound shades that bikers wear, but none of it helped. The hill was a killer.
The rest of the clan seemed to have no problems at all, and escalated the topography like a bunch of lightweight spider monkeys climbing trees. But I suffered, and eventually, much to my embarrassment, Linette swart, the organiser of the tour, had to come pick me up in her car.
“You’re doing great,” she lied. “Especially seeing as you haven’t been on a bike for a while.” Bless her.
At camp, the rest of the group was very supportive. They made me feel good about my failings and told me that mountain biking becomes easier the more you do it.
“We’re not like road bikers,” they told me. “Road bikers are mean and overly focused. We are nice people, see? More like a family.” And with that, they gave me some vitamin supplements and suggested that I get some rest.
That night we stayed in the beautifully situated Kleinplaas farmstead, after passing the Groot Winterhoek Mountains, where fynbos swayed in the breezes and sugarbirds dined heartily on great blooming protea flowers.
*?As well as rugged nature, the Baviaans Mega bike tour takes you through agricultural scenery like these orange plantations close to the town of Patensie.
A team of camp chefs prepared for us a repast fit for a king, and with that I collapsed into a comalike sleep. The following morning I arose with muscles stiffer than scaffolding, but I did so want to continue with the ride, despite the throbbing knees, as the scenery really was spectacular.
Nobody ventures up onto this isolated Karoo road, nobody but the occasional resident hillbilly and groups of mountain bikers like us, and as such, the place has a special ‘middle of nowhere’ feel about it.
Fortunately I had predicted that I may suffer on this trip. Everyone told me I would, and with that in mind I had brought along my secret weapon – the Ezee bike. It has a battery in it. shhh, don’t tell anyone.
Actually, the thing saved my life and facilitated what then turned into a thoroughly enjoyable bike trip by taking the hard bits out of the uphill bits.
The real bikers gave me contemptuous stares, especially those few amongst us who were what you would call professional, but it helped me acclimatise to the idea of being back on a saddle.
The second day of the tour took us through the type of scenery one would describe as typically Karoo. There were windmills and scruffy sheep alongside pale dirt roads and whitewashed cottages.
Skinny farm workers with weathered faces and blue overalls waved their greetings at me, as did red-faced farmers the size and build of hippos.
Early on, I became separated from the group due to being stuck behind a rather large flock of Angora goats that were blocking the road, and hence, for the rest of that morning, despite having an assisted bicycle, I rode more or less on my own.
This was pleasant, if not a little lonely, but I soon learned to appreciate the quietude and peaceful nature of the countryside through which I was slowly making my way.
That evening, after a 92km slog, we bedded down in yet another country house, where we were serenaded to sleep by the sound of sheep being fleeced.
The following three days saw me alternate between the ‘cheating’ bike and one of Linette’s super lightweight ‘real’ bikes, and as the days flowed by I became a little more adjusted (and dare I say fit). We travelled through quaint rural landscapes and then into the most rugged section of the Baviaans itself.
Here the road crosses a shallow river some 40 plus times, and makes for some interesting biking to boot. There were mountain passes and deep craggy rifts galore, as well as tunnels of verdant forest for us to ride through.
There were serious uphill challenges, which Linette and the medical team suggested I withdraw from, and there were some extremely fast and furious downhill segments, again which Linette and the medical team suggest I forgo.
There were also plenty of level sections where one could peddle quite easily, all the while on the lookout for rhinos, buffalo, kudu and leopard – all of which were seen, except the latter.
At the end of it all, a special sort of bond had formed amongst the participants, and despite the fact that it had been a very hard challenge, I felt it was certainly high time I got back on my bike on a more regular basis.
The Baviaans Mega bike tour is not for beginners, it’s a bloody hard slog, but if you, like me, are not made of steroids and sterner stuff, then there are always softer options available.
It had been more than 20 years since I last sat on a bicycle, but thanks to the experience of biking through the beautiful Baviaans Mega Reserve, I now know precisely what I’ll be asking Father Christmas for next year. *
There are several options for slackpacking bike tours in the Baviaans: 5 nights, 4 days, 350km; 6 nights, 5 days, 350km; and for the not so fit, 5 nights, 4 days, 215km.
Mountain biking holidays in SA 082 561 7541, 044 533 0387,
ezee bike 082 745 4962
|More info on Baviaanskloof||More info on the Baviaanskloof Region area|
If you enjoy serenity and beauty, and getting away from it all, subscribe to Country Life to be transported every month to a different back road journey.
Sign up to receive our digital newsletter and get the heart of the countryside – features, events and competitions – delivered to your inbox weekly.
See what’s in the latest exciting issue of Country Life.