Monday, January 5, 2015

Cederberg Singletrack (Sanddrif)

If you ever have the chance to go camping at Sanddrif, take the mountainbike with.

Routes are sometimes sandy, sometimes rocky, sometimes both, sometimes rough jeeptrack, sometimes steep and sometimes very technical. But the views are always world-class, camping cheap, and the river and 'Maalgat' always has water in to cool down afterwards.

Cycling permits are included in your camping fees; get a map at the office when you check in. The green route is the shortest; a 7 km loop that clims up to the start of the 'Wolfberg Cracks' hike, and then stay on the contour a bit (some sandy sections) before coming down on steep singletrack, crossing a river (drinkable water) before joining a jeeptrack back to the campsite.

The Orange route starts with the same climb but continue along the contour with more rocky climbs, sandy sections and a very technical but exquisite downhill singletrack. Lower the seat, or get off and walk - the closest medical attention is in Clanwilliam, but you'll have to get off the mountain first.
The orange then join the jeeptrack that can take you back to the campsite, or to the Kliphuis campsite (Sanddrift's overflow) on sometimes rocky, sometimes sandy but often fast flowing singletrack.  It crosses a river (deep enough for a swim-stop) before continuing to the campsite and then to the dirt road. From there the red and purple turn Clanwilliam's direction to join the singletrack on the other side of the road; Green and orange turn back to the campsite on the gravelroad.

Other things to do:
- Check out the Stadsaal Caves. Get a permit at the office in Dwarsrivier.
- Climb up to the the Wolfberg Cracks. If time permits, walk the few km extra to the Wolfberg Arch. (Organise permits at the Dwarsrivier office the day before, so that you can get an early start; it gets hot and the clims is in the sun the whole afternoon)
- Jump off the cliffs at the Maalgat.
- Walk to the Maltese Cross (Permit at Dwarsriver)

Singletrack: Orange Route

It may help to lower your seat for the Orange singletrack downhills.

Orange route


Wolfberg Cracks

Stadsaal Caves

Monday, September 22, 2014

Desert Knights

Come cycle in the desert by the light of the full moon, the website invited. 5 Days of cycling, of which 4 would be at night, and one day of paddling on the Orange river in the middle.

Night-riding started at around 5 - with clothes still wet from swimming just before the ride, to try to keep cool in the spring-desert. The full moon rose at sunset so lights weren't necessary, except where it was necessary to light up the corrugation or sandy patches, or in the dark hour before moonrise on the last night-cycle when the moon started to wane. The first few days were on district roads - which sometimes was just two tracks in the sand. Waterpoints and feeding zones were stocked well - even if you arrived way after the crowds, there were still salt and vinegar chips (or lays lightly salted or nicknaks), an energy drink, ice cold soft drinks, water, ice, potatoes, racefood nougat, cookies, biltong, droewors and belgian-chocolate-coated nougat.

On night-cycling-nights we arrived in camp anything from 9 to 12 (There may have been a racing snake or 2 who were home earlier.) There were hardly any queues at the hot showers ever, suppers were usually a five-star affair. Breakfast was available from 8 till 9, and then generally lazing the day away (at the coldest of the Ai Ais hot pools, or washing bikes in the river) until the next night stage. The bar always had cold beer, soft drinks and wine, and often home-made ginger beer. Sometimes there was arranged activities - a nature-hikes at Hobas, a volleyball-championship on the morning after the paddle-day, a drumming session on the Orange River Beach campsite.

Night 1's ride started a bit late due to some logistics issues at Sendelingsdrift, so the 35 kay sundowner ride to the Fish River Canyon viewsite ended up being a moon-ride. Some custom-built singletrack to the viewpoint where we had beer, wine, soft drinks and snacks, and then slightly downhill on the district road all the way back to Hobas, supper and a talk about the area's geology.

The second stage was along the district road from Hobas to Ai Ais. The 70-something route was mostly downhill with a few short climbs to break the monotony of the corrugation. A fast corrugated downhill with some sandy patches down into AiAis, where we spent a good part of the evening and the most of the next day in the coldest of the hot pools.

Night 3's 60-odd km was probably the hardest of the stages due to the sand and the corrugation. In the beginning, even the downhills on sand was hard, but you learn quickly how to ride it (bum on the back wheel, weight completely off the handlebars, and keep the speed up). A headwind made the only piece of corrugated district road downhill hard to cycle, and then we turned off into sandy patches again - through valleys and around a corner to the most secluded prettiest campsite in the Richtersveld.

Day 4 was an early start (after a late night) for a full day of paddling on the Orange River. The 25 km on the river included some rapids, and were off the water at about 3. Due to navigational issues and a flat tyre, the logistical team (hot showers, food and beer) only arrived at around 5. Luckily we were next to a river and the tents were pitched already, so it was a very lazy 2 hour lie-around, chat, sleep, eating the last of the 'river ratpack-provisions' while we waited. We were treated to a drumming session and traditional Nama-food (2 different lamb pots and an afval-pot, waatlemoenkonfytstukke, potbrood, gemmerbier, slaphakskene, pampoenkoekies, kerrieboontjies, sousboontjies, and moerkoffie and rooibostee on the fire).

Night 5 was a short 41 km ride on district-road tracks. There was about an hour's darkness after sunset before the moon rose, which made for interesting downhills when you suddenly hit an unexpected sandy patch (Keep the weight right back, no weight on the handlebars, and surf the sandy patch until the wheels find solid ground again.) Big, fun downhills, and a very pretty campsite after a short climbie at the end (the Venstervalle hiking trail basecamp). It was much colder than the previous nights, and the fire-side conversations were much closer to the fire than the previous nights.

The last day was a daylight-stage of 60-something km through the most unreal terrain I've cycled in: quarts fields, Richtersveld koppies, 2 tracks that changed into 1 track, and then into technical climbies and more technical huge fun drops on the other side, interspersed with some sandy bits to keep us honest. Full marks to the person who designed this day's course.

The logistics for this event is mindblowing. I counted roughly 50 support crew for the 100 cyclists ... tents must be pitched and unpithed, an ambulance, a Bell truck for fresh drinking water (and shower water), portable donkeys to ensure hot water for the portable showers, giant bike-racks to transport 100 bicycles, a (quiet!) generator to provide charging stations for cameras, GPSes and other must-chargables, game-viewers to short-cut tired riders up hills or over entire stages. And a bar that never ran out of wine, ginger beer, soft drinks and ice. (Although it arrived in camp a few hours late once due to a puncture.)

A definite bucket list adventure, and I would certainly classify this as one of the best events I've done. Doable with a 26er hardtail, of which there were many. Like a hiking trail was meant to be hiked, and not run, so this adventure is meant to be cycled, and not raced.

Stop, take pictures of the setting sun in the desert and the sand-track by moonlight, eat some of the belgian-chocolate-nougat at the feedings stations, deliver some appletizer to the marshalls 2 km further from the waterpoint, and take time to take in the surreal landscape.


On the way back I realised that corrugation and sand is also 'real' mountain biking. And I wondered what makes a mountain bike adventure great. There are certainly different factors, but if you had to rate them, what would the criteria be? Would the great singletrack of Sani2C be enough reason to do the ride again and again? Or would Ride2Rhodes be a 'better' experience because you don't have to queue for singletrack, and because of the people that you meet? Or maybe the sense of accomplishment when finishing something like in Joberg2C - but is it worth doing again, if there are so many other adventures and places that you haven't ridden?

This one? Definitely on par with the experience I had in the Himalayas. Easily as beautiful every day. Far easier cycling, though, and therefore, something that I will definitely consider doing again. One of the best bike adventures I've done, because of the adventure of cycling at night, because of the paddle inbetween, because the holiday-feel to it, because of the amazing singletrack on the last day, because of the variety.

May the spirit of this event never change ... and may the masses never discover this event, so that there will be place for me, my other half, my brother and his son on Easter weekend 2016.

Dust on the way to the Fish River Canyon viewpoint sundowners

The 'short nature hike' at Hobas turned out to be a 4 hour adventure - but the swimming pool was worth it.

The campsite on night 3.

Arriving at the Orange River Beach after the paddle-leg

Campsite next to the Orange River


Donkeys to ensure hot showers

Portable showers - genius systems, but if you're not strong enough to hoist that bucket up, remember to ask someone before you get in - otherwise you'll have to shower under a 1 meter high shower - like the person in the shower on the far right :)


The pont at Sendelingsdrift

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Chartered Van Gaalens Dirt Fest

A whole weekend of riding on uncongested singletrack!

Friday night was 25 km of nightriding on the famous Vn Gaalens tracks: slightly more technical by night than by daylight.

Saturday morning's ride was a 'social race' of 6 timed 'stages' of 500 metres to maybe 3 km's in length, with well-stocked watertables and social riding between the stages. The start was delayed due to higher than expected water levels due to the previous night's rain. The track was slightly muddy, but uncongested and great fun riding.

Sunday morning's stage was a flattish 60 kay with the climb up to the Greek church the only major obstacle.

Maybe the orgnisers could have done a bit better with getting information to the riders before the event - but overall, a very enjoyable weekend, and the 'sprint' stages definitely a format I'd like to see more of.

My friend Zurika's summary of the ride:

1. Go at your own pace. Trying to keep up with someone else will only make you tired.
2. Don't mind the slow riders in front of you. Eventually the will be a climb an you will pass them.
3. If there suddenly there are 6 little duckies in your path, stop and wait till they move out of the way otherwise you will separate one of them from the rest and feel very bad afterward.
4. If you get lost, go back to the last place you knew you were still on the right track.
5. If you loose your sense of humor, best you find it quickly. It will only make for a more pleasant journey.
6. There are lots of unexpected beauty along the way. Like the cactus I saw with the most beautiful white flowers I've never seen before.
7. Don't worry if you find yourself alone on the course , just keep going.
8. If you still don't know where you going don't stop for too long , you wasting valuable time. Ask for directions.
9. If you get chased by three dogs , pedal faster and be thankful you got your tetanus shot months ago.
10. Sometimes there is mud in your way and no way around it. Go through it and always be grateful if you did not fall.
11. Most of the time, for every rocky uphill there is a fast downhill.
12. Don't give up. Always finish the race! It makes for a good satisfied feeling.

Looking forward to this one for next year!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Exploring Göreme by bike

I read about the bicycling possibilities in Cappadocia a long time ago, so I was excited to find myself in Göreme in the beginning of July.

Bike rental (basic, with v-brakes) was 10 TL (about R55) for 3 hours.

We first took the bikes to the hiking trail up the Pidgeon valley. 

Singletrack on the Pidgeon Valley hiking trail

One of the many tunnels on the Pidgeon Valley hiking trail

When the route became too technical for the non-existing front brakes, we turned around and rode towards the open air museum. A flat tyre made us walk back to the bicycle shop for a bike swap. The 'new' bike was a much better fit, but with equally non-existing front brakes. We then rode towards the Rose/Red Valley between weird rock formations. 

Singletrack!!!!!! This rut is easier down  than up, because it got so deep at places that the pedals got stuck on the sides. Nice berms :)

More singletrack on the way to the Rose/Red Valley

 We rented the bikes only for 3 hours, but easily could have continued the whole day and all the other days we were there, had we not had other touristy places to explore. If I ever go back to Cappadocia, it will be to do a hot air balloon tour (which got cancelled due to wind when we were there), to see mount Nemrut (too little time this time around), and to explore much more by bike.

Put it on your bucket list!