Day 14 & 15: Villiers to Reitz to Phuthaditjhaba

27-28 March

27 March: Start 08:00 End 12:00 Distance 80km Avg: 19km/hr

28 March Start: 08:00 End: 14:10 Distance 98km Avg: 19.2km/hr

Due to the rain and the rest day on the 26th, we portaged from Villiers to Reitz, a distance of 80km. Therefore, we went for an out-and-back ride from Reitz on the 27th to make up the lost distance. It was a straightforward ride through the mostly gentle undulating hills of the Free State. The views to the right and left alternate between cultivated land (can you say MEEEEAAAAALIIIEEEES again?) and grassland inhabited by cattle.

Roadside shenanigans.

Roadside shenanigans.

Although that part of the Free State is what most people would think of as flat, it isn’t. We are either going up or down for most the ride but the ups are manageable on the Buffaloes. I hate circuit rides though – on the way out you are always aware that every downhill will be a climb on the way back and every climb is essentially for nothing.

Sometimes, I like to think about spiders.

Sometimes, I like to think about spiders.

Keeping one’s mind busy is often the key to a long, steady climb. There are mental tricks, such as the “rope around the top of the hill” image that I learnt in my early days of mountain biking (you visualise each pedal stroke winching you further up the rope). I often let my thoughts wander, over the course of a ride I will work on a short story which never makes it to paper when I get back. Sometimes, bad memories crop up. These can easily demotivate but I let the anger get pushed out through each downward pedal stroke. Cathartic.

We get back, hit the showers and hang our recently washed cycling kit all over the plastic chairs in full view of the bistro restaurant on the property. You can always count on the Coopers to bring a touch of class to a venue.

The next day, I am awoken by the sound of a flock of hadedas (the actual birds, not a bizarre Free State 80’s cover band with weird hair). We set off at 8.

There are roadworks for the majority of the route, meaning there is a lovely unused Qhubeka highway cordoned off on one side of the road for most of the day. See, cyclists and cars can get along – we just need 5m of good road to ourselves.

Qhubeka highway this way!

Qhubeka highway this way!

As we pass one lot of roadworkers, one greets Colin, “Hello, Oupa!” I am so empathetic I almost fall off my bike laughing. We have met quite a few friendly construction workers. One early in the trip shouted at us, “Hey! Ladysmith Black Mambazo!” as we rode past and gave a wave. I was completely baffled as to how he had mistaken us for members of the famous group. For one thing, I hadn’t been singing and for another, if I had been singing, the chances of him mistaking me for a member of a choir would have decreased precipitously. We were about a kilometre down the road when I realised he was making reference to our flamboyant tiger print with neon trim shirts.

Lunch on Kestell roadside.

Lunch on Kestell roadside.

We pass a man in a road-sweeping vehicle. Unlike most roadworkers, he’s on his own, trawling up and down the same stretch of road cleaning it of gravel. Maybe it’s relaxing, like raking a zen garden. Just down the road, we find a man doing the same job, only he has a broom and a tin can. I wonder what he did to annoy his employer.

Down one stretch of road, we pass a young couple passing there approximately 8 month old baby through a barb wire fence; she on the inside, and him on the outside. It was odd, mostly because they had chosen to pass their precious bundle through the second lowest gap of the barb-wire fence. The fence was only waist high, so they could much easier have gone over it, or walked about 50m to the open gate. I can only speculate as to why they decided upon exposing their child to the risk of eyelid lacerations and tetanus when there were easier options available. I suggest to Colin that maybe they were trying to settle an argument about whether their child was small enough to escape though the fence.

Typical Free State scene.

Typical Free State scene.

There’s some wildlife today, notably a flock of flamingos. I am always surprised when I see them at a dam in South Africa. They look odd, surrounded by cattle and grassland. Flamingos are nature’s ultimate, “you are what you eat” animal, given that they are white and the pink variation comes from the diet in specific areas. Imagine if the same were true of humans. I would probably be beer coloured. That is a thing that can happen after many years of hard drinking too.

A few hundred pedal strokes and suddenly the mountains lumber into view. After miles of farmland it is a relief to see the rock crowned hills of the Free State.

The mountains arrive.

The mountains arrive.

The relief lasts about 5 minutes until it is realised that with great views, come great climbs. Still nothing too hectic at this stage; we manage to get up everything with a combination of seated and standing riding. No pushing today although I suspect there will be some tomorrow as we get to the Drakensberg. The region is amazing. There is free-roaming game and a spectacular view wherever one looks. I highly recommend a trip if you have not been before. Maybe in some sort of motorised transport unless you are very fit/insane.

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