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08 May 2011

Early morning start

On the 28th April 2011 I set out on an expedition with 3 boys, or rather young men, to travel from our homes in the Cape to Johannesburg to meet up with the participants of the Fairbairn Capital joBerg2C and embark on the biggest mountain biking adventure of our lives… so far!

Not only would this be the biggest mountain biking adventure for all of us, but it was also to be the first time in an airplane for the kids as well as their first ever trip to Johannesburg, all the way through the Free State, down to the Drakensberg and then into Kwa-Zulu Natal to finish on the coast. We had no idea of the exceptional vistas we were about to experience or the incredible single track riding, or the phenomenal organisation and hospitality of joBerg2c that was in store for us. It was about to be the adventures of our lifetime.

We arrived late on the evening of 28th to stay at the Fire and Ice Hotel in Marble Arch with the rest of the participants. The glorious luxury of the 5 star hotel was a treat for all of us and just the pampering we needed before 9 days in mud, dirt and tents!

Early on the morning of the 29th we set out in the Avis vehicles to make our way to Heidelburg for the start of the race. There was lots of excitement amongst us, not quite knowing what to expect and also somewhat daunted by the long distance, this was a huge undertaking for all of us. The fresh crisp air at the Gauteng start where the temperature was -1 degrees Celsius at 7am was to mark the start of many a fresh morning to come! Day 1 turned out to be great fun with an almost technical shortcoming for Elton as we discovered a cracked back derailer hanger. Luckily the race is so well organised and the race mechanic, Jason, who was riding with us was able to sort us out so that we could carry on riding.

Through the veld we went until the half way point, which was entailed crossing the Vaal Dam from Gauteng into the Free State on Dragon Boats. What great fun and a great start to the adventures down to the Kwa-Zulu Natal coast. Every day we were greeted with some amazing treats from incredible sights through the Free State to the Sterkfontein Dam, or radical single track riding along the ridge of the escarpment and then dropping down into the Drakensberg.

The Drakensberg mountains are just stunning and making our way through their autumn colours and lush green terrain left from the summer rains made these sights just spectacular. Focusing on the trail at times was nearly impossible!

And then of course, our Day 8! There is no ways you can reach the bottom of the Umkomaas river valley without the most gigantic smile on your face! There is just no way you can ever get tired of that unbelievable riding! It’s mountain biking heaven! Always changes and improvements to the trails on the joBerg2c and sani2c routes, the passion for exceptional riding is just so evident.

The hospitality on joBerg2C is something quite extraordinary and really makes the experience so special. Being welcomed at every water point with a smile and coming “home” each day to all the school kids and supporters running each race village really appeases the toughness of this expedition.  Make no mistake mountain biking 900km in 9 days is no easy undertaking! Every single water point greeted us with great friendliness and helpfulness, and I want to say… the best customer service ever! We were always spoilt with great food treats, the offer to clean your glasses or water bottles, and the option hand in jackets and warm clothes from the cold early morning starts. There were balloons and cookies and cakes at every water point which made every rest point an adventure in itself! It was great fun meeting so many different people along the way and the wonderful school children who were always so friendly, helpful and polite, a welcome treat after a long day of riding.

Taking on 9 days of riding over 900km for me as a 34 year old was quite something and I can definitely say there were moments where it was pretty tough going, dealing with the challenges of long days in the saddle, taking care of your bike, dealing with tents, dirt and the various obstacles that came up along the way. There were times where the last 20km of a 126km day just felt endless and so tough going but always the youngsters handled these challenges so well. I can’t begin to describe their mental strength in addition to their great riding abilities.

They certainly got a lot of attention from various along the way who all commented on how well the guys rode, the incredible technical ability and fearless, and always with a shy smile. Phil Liggett was so impressed he donated his bike to our project, as did Marius Nauhaus. The 9 days afforded us the opportunity to get to know so many wonderful people, who offered lots of support and encouragement along the way.

I am definitely no match in riding for these young guys, so it was great to have a fellow trustee, Nic Lamond along the ride and with whom the boys could ride.

It ended up working out quite well as Elton and Sivuyile could experience the fast paced technical riding with the guys up-front and when tired or needing a recovery day they could join Bongs and I at the back. I am not quite sure what Songo told Bongs before we headed out on our expedition, but Bongs did not leave my side for the entire 9 days. If I stopped to take a photo or go to the loo, he was there waiting for me. If I had an inkling of a problem on my bike, he was there to take care of it. He was just amazing, even tolerating my more darker moments of trying to get through the last climbs of some of the longer days.

We had lots of fun together and many laughs. Whether we were chuckling away at Sivuyile trying to make plans for his sore butt or at Elton flying down the hills and dodging cows, it was a special experience to share with the guys.

The 2nd last day’s riding down into the Umkomaas valley was the greatest highlight for the guys. I have never seen such big smiles on their faces as the demolished the single tracks, flying down the mountain! We rocked that day and managed to jump up 30 places that day as I vaguely held on to their back wheels.

The final day was such a treat as we headed down to the coast, catching our first glimpse of the sea as we came through Vernon Crooks game farm, our expedition was drawing to a close. The boys were like horses bolting for the stables as we got closer and closer to the sea, I was peddling like mad just to try and hang on! I really felt quite a pang as we crossed the finish line together, all in one piece having had the most incredible experience.

We are enormously grateful to Craig, Farmer Glen and Farmer Garry from joBerg2c for giving us the opportunity to take part in the race and Matt Schnelker for providing an additional entry enabling a team of 4 of us to take part.

joBerg2c is a must-do for mountain bikers and guaranteed to be a really special experience. We hope to be able to participate in many more wonderful experiences with the guys. For more pictures go to our Facebook page and go to Nic’s first hand accounts on his experiences.