Great Olympic time trial
courtesy of Evans
Scotland is famed for its fantastic scenery, islands, hills, mountains and get-away-from it all feel. There are also plenty of roads that offer great routes for quiet cycling. Why not pick one of our favourite cycle routes in Scotland and head off for a day or two of fabulous touring?
Lochs & Glens North
Start: SECC, Glasgow
Finish: Ness Bridge, Inverness
Distance: 214 miles
This route follows the NCN (National Cycle Network) Route 7. It is a mix of roads and traffic-free paths. The ride takes you through both of Scotland’s acclaimed national parks, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairngorms, with a huge variety of beautiful countryside and wildlife.
You’ll also pass six lochs, multiple castles and cycle over the famous Glen Ogle viaduct. The route has its fair share of long climbs but equally, there are some great descents.
With more than 200 miles to cover you can split the journey into day-long sections or decide just to ride some of the routes in a day and return to the start by public transport. Be sure to book ahead if you want to reserve a bike space on a train. SeeSustrans
Five Ferries Bike Ride
Start/Finish: CalMac ferry terminal at Ardrossan, Ayrshire.
Distance: 71 miles
A legendary bike ride is this island-hopping route on Scotland’s west coast.
The route, as the name suggests, includes five short ferry crossings and 4 cycle sections across the mainland of Scotland.
Many people ride the route in one day, which is possible if you time the ferries and your cycling carefully. Alternatively, you can take your time and overnight on the islands.
A CalMac ferry takes you from the mainland at Ardrossan to Brodick on the Isle of Arran, where you cycle 15 miles to Lochranza. The next ferry heads to Claonaig on the Kintyre Peninsula.
From Claonaig to Tarbet is 10.5 miles before a ferry to Portavadie on the Cowal Peninsula. The ride to Colintraive is 19 miles and includes a long hill climb with fabulous views over the Kyles of Bute.
Another ferry journeys to Rhubodach on the Isle of Bute and then you ride 8 miles to Rothesay. The last ferry of this trip heads to Wemyss Bay and then a bike ride of 18.5 miles back to Ardrossan. Alternatively, you could take the train from Wemyss to Ardrossan.
More details of the route at Five Ferries Cycle
Scottish Coast to Coast
Start: Annan, Dumfries & Galloway
Finish: The Forth Bridge, near Edinburgh
Distance: 125 miles
The Scottish C2C was created by the same founders as the popular English C2C this is a new waymarked long-distance route for Scotland.
It takes cyclists through the beautiful rolling countryside of southern Scotland, starting in the small town of Annan on the coast in Dumfries and Galloway and heading north through three valleys, the Annan, Tweed and Esk.
The route then reaches the Scottish capital city of Edinburgh and on to the Forth Bridge, which is one of the great wonders of the engineering world.
You could easily start the route in Edinburgh and head south to the coast of Dumfries and Galloway. See the route guide book, The Ultimate Scottish C2C Guide, priced £11.50 from Bike Ride Maps.
Ring of Breadalbane Road Cycle
Start/Finish: Crieff, Perth & Kinross
Distance: 100 miles (160km)
The Breadalbane “High Ground” area of Perthshire boasts breath-taking scenery and lots of lovely quiet roads. The full 100-mile route is a big undertaking in a single day although some riders will be up for the challenge.
For easier days in the saddle, split the route into a few sections over two of three days.
In the summer, an Explorer Bus allows cyclists to access different start and finish points, such as Crieff, Comrie, Killin and Aberfeldy.
North Coast 500
Distance: 516 miles
Scotland’s answer to America’s Route 66, the NC500 travels just over 500 miles in the stunning north-west of Scotland. First created for drivers, the route has become a popular goal for cyclists.
Most cyclists take a week to ride it, although others will be keen to cover it in less time.
The circular route can be completed clockwise or anti-clockwise and meanders through the counties of Caithness, Sutherland and Ross-shire. Be prepared for long hill climbs and fabulous landscapes.
July 26, 2016 – The 2016 Tour de France wrapped up on Sunday with Chris Froome (SKY) celebrating his third overall win of this prestigious race.
Graphics/Words by Dimension Data || Image by Yuzuru Sunada
Additionally, Dimension Data produced a final infographic based on the information obtained through its data analytics technology that tracked each riders’ journey across the 21 stages. Here’s a quick snapshot of race analytics:
1. The riders conquered 80 km/h winds, 3 rainy finishes, 1 hail storm and 1 day of 35C/95F heat.
2. Stage 11 was the fastest with an average speed of 46.65 km/h while Stage 18 was the slowest speed at 29.58 km/h.
3. Riders climbed a total of 8,500 m in elevation of categorized climbs in the Alps which is equal to 26 Eiffel Towers.
4. Dimension Data Big Data truck traveled 4,892.5 km and processed 127.8 million data records in its cloud.
The 22-person data team used 12 collaboration tools to work with colleagues around the world and coordinate a 24-hour testing and development cycle to keep up with the race. You can view Dimension Data’s graphic list of facts from the 2016 Tour de France above.
Never one to crack a smile to wide or have a beautiful style on the bike – makes you wonder if he likes any of it apart from the salary ….. anyway another win for frumpy frowny froome
CYCLINGNEWS …. reblog
The run up Ventoux
The defining image of this Tour de France. Few would argue that this was a Tour for the ages, but the sight of the maillot jaune running up Mont Ventoux without his bike is an image that immediately etched itself into the rich tapestry of the race.
It was the most dramatic moment by some distance – the leader of a team synonymous with control being plunged into utter chaos. According to the rules a rider must finish with his bike but there was no time for logical thought here – this was just a desperate bid to reach the sanctity of the finish line. It was absurd, comical even – one of those moments of madness the Tour does so well.
The chaos ensued on the mountain for a good hour as the commissaires bashed their heads together, and it looked for a while like Froome might lose the yellow jersey. Once the decision had gone his way, he refused to speak to the press and got straight in a team car – telling, perhaps, of the psychological impact of the pandemonium.
Bardet’s instinct lights up the race
The four stages in the Alps were set up to provide a thrilling conclusion to the fight for the yellow jersey, but they were beginning to feel like a sleepwalk to Paris until Romain Bardet brought the race back to life in the shadow of Mont Blanc on Friday.
In fact, we should probably credit Mickaël Chérel with the actual ‘moment’ here, as he was the one who had the idea of attacking on the descent ahead of the final climb, telling his teammate ‘follow me’. Despite a moment’s hesitation – “Don’t take too many risks” – Bardet jumped on board wholeheartedly as chaos ensued behind, with Froome among those to crash.
The Frenchman, now solo, made his way up the climb with no knowledge of the time gaps, just riding on instinct, and was rewarded with the stage win and a leap from fifth to second.
Bardet quickly became the story of the Tour here in France. It was his face – not Froome’s – on the front page of L’Equipe three days in a row as a nation malnourished in terms of home success in recent years basked in the 26-year-old’s coming of age.
The Cavendish of old
Mark Cavendish‘s Tour de France was already a roaring success before he even began to wind up his sprint in Villars-les-Dombes. The Dimension Data rider, who faced doubts about his form and focus with the Olympics on the horizon, had already won three stages, but the fourth made this his most fruitful return since wearing a HTC jersey.
The clock had been wound back and this was the Cavendish of old. There was a difference in the manner of the victories – the dominant sprint train making way for a more inventive approach – but the outcome was the same as the 31-year-old stamped his authority on the majority of the bunch sprints.
Between 2008 and 2011 he averaged five stages annually, while in the subsequent four-year period from 2012 to 2015 he managed just six in total. This was a return to the hauls of old. It was also of massive psychological import to beat Kittel on each and every occasion, having never got the better of the German head-to-head before. When Kittel burst onto the scene a few years ago he announced himself as Cavendish’s successor, and earlier this year he seemed to confirm himself as the fastest in the world. Now that doesn’t seem so certain.
Sky’s ability to practically rest and rotate luxury mountain domestiques did often subdue the spectacle, with offensive riding largely neutralised, but it would be harsh to label Froome ‘boring’ when he had the gumption to attack and gain time on a descent and on a flat stage.
His furious top-tube pedalling on the way down the Col de Peyresourde could be seen as a microcosm of his contest with the other main favourite, Nairo Quintana – one rider sitting up and taking a bottle, watching and waiting, while the other was striking out and winning the race.
Seeing the maillot jaune away in a four-man group in the crosswinds with the world champion at the end of a flat stage was more absurd still. Many questioned the risk/reward of the attacks but there’s little doubt that for a rider like Froome, who likes to get ahead early, they had significant psychological impact and won him increased appreciation in the public eye.
The two-time – three if you ask him – Tour champion crashed heavily on the opening two stages and eventually abandoned with illness on first day in the Pyrenees, and you sense the race thereafter was poorer for it.
Froome was in a different league to most of his rivals here – only Nairo Quintana was considered a true threat, and his race petered out in disappointing fashion. With Contador, it surely would have been different, even if he wasn’t as strong as Froome or his team as strong as Sky.
The Spaniard is more attacking and adventurous than Quintana, more willing to take risks and take the race to his foe, and you sense that he’d be more likely to get inside Froome’s head and possibly throw him off.
Quintana’s challenge fades away
It’s difficult to really pinpoint one major ‘moment’ in what was really one large damp squib of a Tour for Nairo Quintana.
The Colombian wanted to avoid losing time early on like he had done last year, and be able to hit Froome in the Alps in the last week. As it was, Froome still managed to carve out an advantage and Quintana once again arrived at the second rest-day with a deficit of around three minutes, his powder very much still dry.
At Movistar’s press conference on that rest day he claimed he had a plan for the four-part Alpine climax, and there was talk of a possible coalition with Astana. Any excitement about Quintana applying the pressure he had done late last year, however, dissipated when he was dropped on the final climb to the Emosson dam.
He played the waiting game for a further hour and a half as he struggled to do the necessary to provide an anti-doping sample and when he did emerge he revealed he was struggling physically – which he later claimed was allergy-related. He told us there was many years left for him to win the Tour and with that, the race for yellow ceased to be a contest.
Respects paid to Nice
The pandemonium on Ventoux was still fresh in the mind but it would soon seem almost trivial as news filtered through overnight of the terrorist massacre in Nice.
Suddenly, the cut and thrust of elite-level competition seemed to fade into insignificance. It was only right that the Tour continued in a statement of defiance against those who try to disturb our peace and make us live in fear. Froome pretty much sewed race up on the stage 13 time trial but the atmosphere was strangely subdued and he again refused to speak to the press besides offering a brief statement on the attacks in the city where he lives.
Nevertheless, bringing the yellow, green, white, and polka-dot jersey wearers out onto the podium for a minute’s silence was a powerful moment.
The Red Hook Crit is more than just a serious race attracting pro and amateur riders alike from all over the world. It’s also a trendy party full of spandex-clad tattooed bods with great legs riding chic single speeds.
Fast forward to modern times. The cycling industry is enamored with the outdoors. Bikepacking, touring, bicycle camping and S24 rides are all the rage. Hell, even Adventure Cycling is celebrating the Bikecentennial this year! All the brands have taken a stab at designing the best-suited bike for the aforementioned activities. While Specialized wasn’t by any means the first to the party in terms of “adventure bicycles,” they have staked their claim to the movement.
It began with the AWOL, Erik Nohlin’s design which would eventually take him on the Transcontinental, Oregon Outback and numerous other excursion style rides and races. The AWOL was designed to be a touring bike, fully loaded or lightly packed, it was more than capable to tackle almost all conditions with its massive clearances and rugged construction. While the AWOL didn’t break any new ground in the industry, it gave Specialized a firm foundation to launch their Adventure lineup.
Enter the rebirth of the Sequoia. Nohlin wanted a bike that was faster on its feet than the AWOL, so he designed a one-off made from custom butted, CroMo steel and rode it for over a year, making notes on improvements. We saw it before on this very website, just rendered in a sparkle black abyss coat of paint. Taking his notes, his bike and his knowledge to the department head, he pushed for the rebirth of the Sequoia but he didn’t want to simply take an AWOL frame and add on new parts from a catalog. He wanted to design a new bike from the ground up.
A Thousand Decisions Properly Made
The original marketing of the 1980’s Sequoia boasted the quote “A thousand decisions properly made.” This became the mantra for Erik, now the Sequoia’s third designer, following Tim Neenan and Jim Merz. Erik knew to make a bike that would ride light on its feet like brevets and similar races required, he’d have to start with the tubing. The Sequoia uses custom drawn tubing for each frame size, from 50cm to 61cm and it shows. There’s also a custom fork, with rack, fender and cargo cage mounts, as well as a new headset (that black block under the head tube) If you lift the bike up, it feels lighter than the AWOL. How light? I’m not sure exactly, since we didn’t have time to weigh them this weekend.
Once the tubing was dialed in, so to say, Erik looked at where the industry was heading. Thru axles, flat mounts, internal routing, and wide range 1x drivetrain systems had taken over the drop bar market, making a bike like this almost as capable as a mountain bike in terms of gear range. The Cobble Gobbler post and its funky design is met at the cockpit with their new drop bar, which has 20mm rise, flair and a shallow drop. Erik even designed a new rim, the Cruzero. A wide, tubeless-ready rim with a classic style. There are rack and fender mounts, as well as braze ons for a third bottle cage. Other details include internal routing for generator lamps, clearance for a 45mm tire, and new thru-axle hubs. Oh and that black denim bar tape and saddle! Even the paint, called White Mountain, inspired from Erik’s venture into the White Mountains during an outing with Yonder Journal, was new to their catalog.
Riding the Juggernaut
While our ride got cut short, due to Erik’s wreck, I did get to spend a good amount of time on the Sequoia, which shares almost the same geometry as my Firefly. Off the bat, I could tell it was one of Erik’s designs, who likes to front-load his touring or camping bikes. In the size 58cm, it has a 72º head angle and a 73.3º seat angle with a 50mm rake and 65mm of trail. The tubing felt lively and the front end felt stiff. For a bike this old in legacy, you might even say it felt spry.
I like the 42mm tire platform on bikes like this. They’ll roll on the street just fine, thanks to the new 42mm Sawtooth tires who have the same rolling resistance as a 32mm tire of similar tread, and they’ll take on dirt with confidence-inspiring cornering. Unlike a lot of the “slick” tires of this size, the Sawtooth bites on loose corners, instead of skidding or sliding out. This coupled with the 65mm of bottom bracket drop, and a 430mm chainstay makes for a fast bike on the descent that’s stable yet responsive when you need it to be.
The most impressive feature of this bike is the fork. Thru-axle, internal routing, flat mount disc brakes, hidden fender mounts, drilled crown, cargo cage attachments and designed to carry a front load with rack mounts. All with around 50mm of clearance. This fork is what everyone has been asking the industry to make for some time now. I’ve even requested certain companies to make it out of frustration. Unfortunately, it won’t be available separately though. Why oh why!?
What Is It?
These days, the industry wants to label every drop bar bike with bigger tires a “gravel bike” and I’m sick of it. So what is the Sequoia? A road bike? Cross bike? Touring bike? Brevet bike? It is whatever you want it to be. If I owned one, I’d treat it like my Firefly. It’d go on bikepacking trips in Japan, or dirt rides in Los Angeles and everything in between. Logging miles on the road is also the norm for a machine like this. No one here in Los Angeles goes on “gravel rides,” we just ride all roads. Paved, deteriorated chipseal, fire, frontage and forest service roads. Our frames, tires and gearing are all designed around this type of riding and now, the Sequoia would fit right in next to my already solid stable. The Sequoia is a production bike, made overseas that has addressed what many custom framebuilders are being requested to build for their customers, at half the price.
It’ll come in various build kit options and pricing tiers and will hit stores in August. As built here, it’ll run $3,500 at the Expert model or $1,200 for a frameset. Base complete for $1,200 and Elite complete in between those. As for the tires, bars and bar tape, expect those to be in stock in August.
A bit of gravel – and a nice knee wound
My buddy Nico invited me to do the Dirty Kanza, a 200mi GRAVEL race through the Flint Hills of Central Kansas. I’m never one to turn down a challenge so I accepted, and I’m still mad at him for it.
Let’s start off with the weather: 90 degrees, not a cloud in the sky. Normally my dream weather but in this case? All sunburn and dehydration party time.
Then there’s the wind, the dust, the never-changing green&blue scenery (just the occasional river crossing). “FUN” is not the word I would use to describe racing for 10+ hours in these conditions. But would I do it again? Probably.
Nico was aiming for the single speed record. Tim Johnson was aiming to finish his first go at this event and to support his wife (former Olympian Lyne Bessette) but she had a mechanical early on in the race. Rebecca Rusch, former Kanza winner, rode the 100mi and then announced the winners of the 200mi. Her advice to get through it? Don’t Stop. Seemed simple enough for a girl nicknamed “nonstop”.
I was just aiming to have a good time and finish. And I did (till the end). I guess there’s always next year? Big props to Nico for bonking and then getting through to the other side.
in honour of that win today ….
A good day filming – except there was a one hour like a bike section then the heavens opened as we were trying to film and then after a drenched one hour filming I descended and on a simple piece of singletrack I went from hero to zero catapulted face first over the bars. Really hurt my hands and the right one in particular is horrible.
Could be bad sprain or a fracture so in A&E in fort William waiting to be seen.
This type of racing is taking off in the good old trump of ASS
Would be good to do something like this in UK (race event not the buffoon poiliticians like trump and Boris)
Loving the Sonder Camino ti but the stock Saddle and seatpost for me is the weak point so far.
Love Brooks but dont really want leather on the ti gravel bike so today I ordered a Cambium C15 saddle in mud happy black.
review to follow – the ones I have read have been pretty outstanding
from the land of my birth – epic adventure
South African Dirt and the Karoobaix
Photos and words by Stan Engelbrecht
On the third morning we came across two kudus, dead, and partially eaten. During the intense drought in the area over the last months, many animals had been breaking through fences to get to this dam, only to find it completely dry. In their search for water, these kudus tried to cross the dried dam floor, and got trapped in two mud sinkholes. They must have struggled there for days, before dying of thirst and starvation. And maybe something had started eating them while they were still alive.
It was a stark reminder that the Karoo is a dangerous and remote place. This semi-desert region near the Southern tip of Africa is known for its searing beauty, but also its harsh and unforgiving environment. Get caught out here without water or shelter at the wrong time of year and it can be the end of you.
We were on a 4-day recce for a route that might become South Africa’s first true gravel grinder style race. I foresee a gruelling 400 kilometer blast over 3 days, through little towns and along some spectacular but testing all-gravel back roads. Rules will stipulate simply – ride what you want, but strictly no suspension and drop bars only. There will be sunburn, loose sand, and sore muscles in the day, good food, plenty of wine and local culture at night. And I’m thinking of calling it Karoobaix. Karoo, in honor of this very special place of course, and Roubaix because of the arduous cobblestoned 1-day classic that is famous amongst cyclists as one of the hardest, most challenging races in the history of the sport. It’s an homage, but also a cautionary warning – it will be tough. This idea started a year or so ago while working on my other race, the Tour of Ara – a 6-day all-gravel stage race only open to pre-1999 steel road bicycles. The Tour of Ara is an intimate race only open to 40 riders, and racing an old steel road bike in the dirt probably has limited appeal. So with the sudden worldwide popularization of gravel or all-road bikes, I thought it was maybe time to do something a bit more inclusive here – an African style gravel grinder race.
It was decided we would wild camp, and carry whatever we could in terms of food, water, and shelter. The route we followed didn’t offer much of any of these, and with winter approaching, hot meals and warm beds would be welcome. We left from Montagu, a small picturesque town where the Cape winelands meets the Karoo, on the Sunday following the inaugural Eroica South Africa. Still pretty exhausted from all the action leading up to Eroica, the ride, and of course the festivities the night before, we bought our last supplies and headed out of town. And straight up the Ouberg Pass. Steep, and long. But we made it to the top before sunset, and while Cameron, Bregan and Werner found the perfect wild campsite for our first night, Sven and I went to search for water. We got lucky and found a farm labourer living a few kilometers away, and after chatting to him and his young son for a while, we got our water and headed back to find the guys. They’d found a good hidden spot and were already collecting firewood. Soon the fire was burning, dinner was being prepared and wine and bourbon was being passed around.
The next morning we rode our 100 kilometers to Ladismith, on varying condition dirt roads. On a rough section Sven’s pannier bag got pulled in the spokes of his rear wheel, and it dragged him to a skidding stop. The bag had been running too close to the wheel, and now that it had been caught by the spokes, everything was dangerously bent in. I hunted around the fence running along the road, and found some discarded fencing wire. With some zip ties and a bit of ingenuity we fashioned a brace to keep it all straight. Let’s go! It was hot and dusty, and a few hours later when we saw a river flowing out of the mountains near town, we knew it was time for a bath. We stripped down, waded into the shallow water and soaped up – much to the amusement of some locals watching all this from a distance. By the time we got into town it was getting late. Sven and I headed straight into the hellhole that is the Ladismith Ladies Bar while the other guys grabbed some supplies around town. After two huge beers, and getting shouted at for riding my bike on the dance floor, it was nearly dark. We headed straight to the mountains as quickly as we could. And we found a secluded little valley not too far from town. It was bushy and not exactly flat, but we managed to pitch our tents out of sight, and got straight onto dinner. In the morning we woke to see Sven on top of the hill above where we camped, and we hiked up to join him with all the equipment we needed for our morning coffee. From up there we saw that we were much closer to the town that we realized, and could look over the entire Ladismith laid out in front of us in the sleepy morning light.
After breakfast we rolled out through town along a bit of tar before turning north onto the dirt road leading into the beautiful Seweweekspoort Pass. It’s not steep, but it’s definitely a steady climb before you exit the Klein Swartberg mountains almost 20 kilometers later. And this is where we stopped for lunch, at a sign pointing east to Gamkapoort. Now, the thing about traveling by bike, any traveling really, is that you have to be flexible. If an interesting opportunity presents itself, why not take advantage of it. Obviously none of us had ever been down to Gamkaspoort, since it’s a very remote outpost, and supposedly a dead end. But the urge to just go and see what was down there overwhelmed all our other plans, and by the time lunch was finished and we’d enjoyed a few sips of whiskey, we were heading east. We detoured from our Karoobaix recce into the unknown. After a few kilometers down the road between the Swartberg and Elandberg mountains, we suddenly started dropping down a long, steep and rocky pass. The view along the Swartberg mountains to the east was nothing short of spectacular, but it was dropping fast out of view as we were heading down into a deep valley. It dawned on us, all separately, that riding back out of this would be seriously hard work, and we silently wished the unknown would present an alternative to get out. By the time we reached the bottom, it was getting late. The light was beautiful, and we encountered a lot of antelope seemingly headed the same way we were going. An hour later we’d reached our dead end. Gamkapoort Dam.
The dam is normally closed to the public unless previously arranged. But two things conspired to make our impromptu visit okay. Fox, the custodian, is a cyclist himself. After weighing up our ‘story’ about wanting to see Gamkapoort and not really having much of a plan after that, and the fact that the dam is totally empty – surreally bone dry – Fox suggested a possibility. He graciously offered for us to camp near his cottages on the edge of the dam, and proposed we cross the dry dam floor in the morning to meet a road on the other side that would take us to the little village of Prince Albert. This happened to be where we’re headed on our Karoobaix recce, and will be where the race concludes. Of course we loved the idea of crossing the dam, and gratefully accepted his offer. Thanks Fox! We got to have a welcome cold shower outside, and the view from where we pitched our tents outside the empty cottages was breathtaking. Dinner was salmon and tomato gnocchi, and of course wine and whiskey.
A breeding pair of fish eagles woke us in the morning, with their sad cry. There were three pairs living on the edge of this dam, but since it’s dried, there is only one pair left. As the sun rose we made coffee, and watched the light reflect in the little pools of muddy water here and there below us. The light was unbelievable, and my old Nikon FE film camera was working overtime. Because we were traveling so light, I unfortunately only brought my lightweight Series-E 50mm. Something wider would have been perfect here, but then working with what you’ve got has a certain poetry to it. Sven pulled yet another grapefruit out of his bag, and we got onto cooking breakfast. Over the years of bicycle touring, we’ve all developed our little tricks to be able to eat something fresh every day. It’s always surprising how long you can carry cheese or coriander or tomatoes. And what’s better than pulling off an amazing campfire dinner or breakfast. Bicycle touring is as much about good food as it is about adventuring.
By the time we rolled down onto the dry dam floor it was already heating up. It was going to be a hot day. The dried mud was rock hard and smooth in places, in others it was rough with deep dark cracks, and of course there were sandy and muddy spots too, where you loaded bike could suddenly just sink as it broke through the surface. Many years ago there used to be a ferry that took the occasional traveler across the dam, but nowadays it’s impossible to cross, and not allowed without explicit permission. We got lucky. We had a rough idea where to pick up the old road on the opposite side, and proceeded cautiously as Fox had warned us about muddy quick-sandy sections.
We approached a rocky outcrop, with many beautiful striations marking the diminishing water level. We stopped to catch up to each other and take a few photographs. Cameron stepped off his bike and to the side, and his shoe broke through the mud and he sank down to his knee, into the sticky, clayey mud. The surface looked completely solid. We had to watch out step. It was then when we saw it. The gruesome sight of two animals, partially protruding from their muddy graves and their exposed half-eaten flesh covered in flies. Somberly, we moved on.
Our old road was rough and sandy, with sharp rocks sticking up through the sand everywhere. Within the first few kilometers we had thankfully our first of only two punctures on the trip. Sven had a long cut in his sidewall, and the sealant was leaking out. We repaired the gash, fitted a tube, and siphoned as much of the sealant we could save into the valve. What followed was more rocks, steep undulating hills that eventually gave way to nearly unrideable soft sand. As we rolled into Prince Albert a few hours later we headed straight to the hotel for beers. Since we were effectively a day early because of our adventurous shortcut through the Gamkapoort, I suggested we ride up the historic Swartberg Pass not too far from town to camp on top of the mountain. We loitered around drinking beers for a bit too long, and zipped out of town a little late. The Swarberg Pass is spectacular, but long, steep, rough and tough. It took us much longer than anticipated to reach the top, and we still had a way to go down to where we would camp. We were tired and hungry, and there was a freezing wind blowing. It was nearly completely dark, and Cameron and I speeded off to where we would camp. He would start setting up camp, and I would ride further to a little river I know to get water for the night. As we were dropping down I realized something was wrong. There had been a fire here, and the veld was destroyed – a sooty exposed mess. I was hopeful that the tree I had in mind to camp at might be okay, but as we rolled up to it my fears were confirmed. The tree was bare, and all the shrubby shelter around it had been burnt away. We couldn’t camp there, especially not so exposed in this icy wind. We had to make a call. We turned back and picked up Sven and Bregan on their way to us, and Werner who was still heading up the pass. After some discussion, we agreed to go and camp at the bottom of the pass, and we rode down the Swartberg in complete darkness. Haunting, and an experience in itself. At the bottom we searched around for a while and started dinner the second we found a good spot. Bregan whipped up a fantastic lemon and parsley couscous to go with the rich stew we made out of chickpeas, tomatoes and sweet potatoes, plus everything we had left over. Along with the wine and the last of our bourbon, it was the perfect meal on such a freezing night in the wild.
At sunrise we dried and packed our tents in the beautiful morning light, and headed back into Prince Albert for a huge breakfast. The Lazy Lizard served us coffee and rusks, delicious hot breakfasts (I think Werner ate a hamburger), and cake. We hung around town for a bit waiting for our pick-up. We checked out the local dairy and bought some cheese, skulked around town and seeked out some more beers at the Swarberg Hotel. Mishaq arrived in town with the van just in time for lunch. We loaded our bikes and bags, and ate another great meal at Lazy Lizard, while idly chatting about everything we experienced over the last few days. And then we were gone, on our way back to Cape Town, and off to our respective lives. The rest of the Karoobaix route will have to wait unexplored for now…