Day 16: Phuthaditjhaba to Witsieshoek

29 March

Start 09:00 End 13:45 Distance 40km Avg: 10.9km/hr

Portage from the pretty Golden Gate National Park where we camped to the outskirts of Phuthaditjaba where we finished the day before. We have an intentionally short day planned due to the difficulty of the hills. The locals of Phuthaditjaba are very friendly; several greet and wave. Bicycles in these parts are still novel enough to cause excitement among the children. I don’t see another bicycle the entire ride through the sprawling village. “Why is that?” I wonder as I push my bicycle up another seemingly unending hill, sweat dripping from my forehead onto the roasting tarmac. It was chilly in the morning when we started but I am now regretting my decision to wear a vest.

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Some cycling and a fair amount of pushing later, we reach the tollgate to Witsieshoek. Maggie has already been through with the backup vehicle and paid our way, so the guards are forewarned of our arrival. They wave us through and cheer as we ride past. Thank goodness we had managed to cycle up the incline just before their hut. Two cyclists pushing bicycles would have been much less worthy of applause.

Up the road to Witsieshoek.

Up the road to Witsieshoek.

Subsequently began the assault on the Sentinel Peak car park road. Dirt and rock in places and almost always uphill, this was our biggest cycling challenge to date. The road skirts round and up into the mountains. We make slow progress. Also, when you don’t cycle, your sweat doesn’t evaporate and you feel much hotter. It is a lesson in Qhubeka riding. When you can’t pedal seated, you stand up. When you can no longer stand up and pedal, you get off and push. Qhubeka, always move forward. We seize every opportunity to cycle, as no matter how hard it is, it is always easier than pushing but there are only a few short stretches that allow this. After what seems hours, we reach the car park. There are several surprised tourists and employees when we arrive on our bicycles. Apparently this is not a popular route for cycling.

Making progress up the Sentinel Peak road.

Making progress up the Sentinel Peak road.

Having made it to the car park, we must now head back down the mountain road to Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge, where we are staying the next two nights.

First Qhubeka Buffalo bikes to the Sentinel Peak car park!

First Qhubeka Buffalo bikes to the Sentinel Peak car park!

I have mentioned my slightly dodgy rear brake before. We make jokes about my epitaph should I plummet off the mountain. I suggest, “Here lies Bianca, turns out she was not as smart as we thought.” One of the rules of epic adventures is always have a plan B (and C, and D). It was while descending the mountain from the car park that I realise that on a bicycle with one brake, there is no plan B for stopping if that one ceases to function, as it does on a rather long descent with a sweeping right hand bend at the bottom which plummets down a cliff and has no barrier fence. I whoosh past Colin. “Uh oh,” I say by way of alarming him to my peril. I back pedal a full 360 degrees – nothing. I spin the pedals forwards again in case something has jammed and try again – nothing. It is at this point I start to become concerned. I unclip my right foot and do some old school foot braking. It takes a few attempts before I ground it properly. I manage to slow the bike down sufficiently to turn it back up the hill without skidding over. I stop inches before the cliff wall (a safer option than the cliff edge, I deemed).

Some of the scenery I almost joined.

Some of the scenery I almost joined.

After that bit of drama, we only ride the less steep hills and push the bikes down the more dangerous sections. Pushing a Qhubeka bike down a hill requires almost as much resource as pushing it up, as it tends to run away with you.

Sometimes you need to look back to appreciate where you have come from.

Sometimes you need to look back to appreciate where you have come from.

We make it to Witsieshoek safely. Colin takes the afternoon to dissemble the rear hub and see if anything is broken. Nothing obvious, so after some minor greasing he reassembles and swaps our back wheels, so he now has the dodgy one.

Despite the mechanical hassles, we have created a World Record for Phuthaditjaba to Sentinel Peak car park – please let me know if you are planning on challenging it. I want to sit halfway up the mountain and laugh at you. Seriously , it is a proper challenge. Get your Buffalo bike and get up there!

It is an early night tonight, we are planning to be up at four to make final preparations before our first truly challenging hike. We need to get there at first light to be down before the dark closes in.

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