reblog Radavist: Karoobaix


from the land of my birth – epic adventure

South African Dirt and the Karoobaix

Photos and words by Stan Engelbrecht

South African Dirt and the Karoobaix

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.

South African Dirt and the Karoobaix

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.

South African Dirt and the Karoobaix

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.

South African Dirt and the Karoobaix

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.

South African Dirt and the Karoobaix

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.

South African Dirt and the Karoobaix

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.

South African Dirt and the Karoobaix

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.

South African Dirt and the Karoobaix

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.

South African Dirt and the Karoobaix

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.

South African Dirt and the Karoobaix

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…

Froome on Strava and then …..not


CYCLING WEEKLY REBLOG:

Does Tour de France champion Chris Froome have a Strava account? Someone uploading rides under the name of ‘Luke Skywalker’ accompanied Team Sky’s Ian Boswell during training rides in South Africa, and they are seriously quick up mountains.

Boswell said yesterday that only he and Froome and been training together in South Africa – which leads us to the not very clever conclusion that the mysterious Luke Skywalker (Sky-walker, get it?) is indeed Froome.

However, the account was deleted on Wednesday, March 2, shortly after this article was published.

The Skywalker account was created on February 18, kicking off with a ride with Boswell. The two riders covered 172km (107 miles) at a seriously impressive average speed of 31km/h (19.2mph), particularly given they climbed just under 3000 metres in total. Maximum speed was a scary 83kmh (51.7mph).

skywalker-boswell-1.jpg

A series of identical rides were then logged on both Boswell’s and Skywalker’s accounts, the longest being 214km (133 miles) on Monday, February 29. The two riders covered that distance at an average speed of 34.7kmh (21.6mph). No wonder Boswell said in a blog this week that Froome pushed him to the limit.

As you may expect, both Skywalker and Boswell had secured pretty much all of the KOMs on the mountain roads in the region where they were riding, including the 9km (5.6 miles) Steenbrasberg Pass at an average of five per cent gradient. Now that the Skywalker account has been deleted, the KOMs are all Boswell’s.

Boswell has now returned to Europe, and will start Paris-Nice on Sunday. Froome will continue training in South Africa and commences his European campaign at the Volta a Catalunya on March 21.

Froome – if it is him – may need to brush up on his Star Wars knowledge though, as they used a photo of Anakin Skywalker on the account rather than Luke. Schoolboy error.

 

dundun… dundun… dundundundundundundundundundundunduN – look around (DRIFT SURFING)


I guess the first thing to say was this was not an attack but a shark getting caught in the leash as it passed by FANNING.

DRIFT: It was only a matter of time. In fact that morning the commentator’s at the J-Bay Open remarked that Mick Fanning was in the surf before dawn, earlier than everyone else, and that the frigid seas of the Eastern Cape weren’t the place to really do that. How prophetic?

With the world watching live across the Internet, as Julian Wilson finished an 9.0 ride and paddled back out into the line up Australian Mick Fanning was attacked by what is assumed to be a Great White Shark.

As we watched in horror Fanning was thrown about as the shark got caught up in his leash and thrashed about. Fanning, Aussie to the core, fought back laying several punches across the shark’s back before the leash was severed.
Then the world caught up. Mick found himself swimming to shore, Wilson paddled towards his compatriot and the safety boats charged in. That must have been the longest minute of their lives.
Thankfully unscathed the crew was returned to the beach where the near nonchalance of Fanning’s initial adrenaline fuelled response dissolved under the weight of the enormity of the situation.

With events like Chopes and Pipeline, waves of consequence that have taken lives over the years it was only a matter of time before something horrible happened live in a contest. It’s a sobering note that Mother Nature has as little respect for us and we sadly often seem to have for her.

Thankfully Mick and Julian are well and healthly if very shaken. It remains to be seen whether South Africa will return to the WSL next year. For the country’s sake I hope it does. The event was called off and everyone will now be taking stock of the situation before heading to Tahiti.

Big Wave secret spot


OK well it is a vaguely hidden advert for HP or something like that but love the madness of the project – hunting for the unridden wave. If it isn’t playing in your area then hit this link – thanks for the shout out readers ….

Jordy Smith film coming and it looks good


Jordy Smith’s latest film “NOW NOW” is unadulterated surf porn. It’s less about the editors artistic impression, and all about what one of the most relevant surfers in the world is doing between dawn and dusk.

Jordy Smith stormed onto the World Tour in 2008 with no apologies and no prisoners. Since first pulling on a ‘Smith’ jersey, he’s brought home victories (J-Bay), accomplished personal goals (winning outside South Africa, in Rio), clocked 10s (everywhere) and shown us all how endearing the transition from cocky benchwarmer to graceful batsman can really be.

Watching all 6’3″ of him hospitalise a beachbreak end section or man-handle a Cloudbreak freight train with equal panache will steal your breath. But Jordy doesn’t just dance for the judges – 2013’s been a year in which he has shocked with freesurf clips, it was only a matter of time ’til we would be gifted a digital extended play.

Welcome to NOW NOW, a collage of moments tagged and bagged during the first six months of this year. Filmed in Mozambique, South Africa, Australia and Indonesia, one simple mantra has kept Jordy’s batteries charged and allowed us the pleasure of NOW NOW: “I just want to go surf. That’s what I want to do.”

Jordy commented, “This movie kinda just happened, I wasn’t really expecting to drop another movie so soon after Bending Colours, then I did a few trips down to Mozambique to test boards and get dialed for Snapper and scored some epic waves.”

“I love Durban, its probably the best place in the world to get clips. The waves are so consistent and super hollow and rampy. I’d seen a few of the young Brazilian kids sticking backflips which got me amped. I ended up sticking two big ones in Ballito, that’s when I realised that we were sitting on some sick footage & had to make this movie”

On sale Friday 13th September 2013 on iTunes

 

I miss the heat and kitesurfing in Cape Town VIDEO


 

In the last chapter of Hidden Lines Youri, Nick and Kevin find themselves in the ultimate kiteboard playground. They discover Nitro City, which proves to be the perfect ending to their trip. Crazy stunts, perfect freestyle conditions and poolside parties conclude their journey.

Burry more than just a MTBer


Heard this on BBC radio this morning a very sad state of affairs – and like all RTA the driver will probably walk

“No parent should ever have to see his child lying on a tarred road after an accident, knowing that there is absolutely nothing he can do to save his life.’

 

Charles Stander said: “It is definitely the worst moment of my life. Words cannot even begin to describe how one feels when it happens. It was terrible.”

His son, Burry, one of the world’s foremost mountain bikers, was killed in an accident, while training on Thursday, January 3. He was out on a training ride in Shelly Beach, on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, when he was hit by a taxi. Apparently the driver did not see Stander when he made a turn. Stander died on the scene.

Colonel Jay Naicker, a spokesperson for the Police, confirmed that a docket for culpable homicide was opened. According to Charles Stander, he and his family will not remember his son only for his successes as a mountain biker. “For us Burry will always be more than just a mountain-bike champion. In fact, he was a champion on and off his bike. For him his family always came first. He never hesitated to help when, and where ever, he could.”

When asked what he considered to be the highlights of his son’s cycling career, Charles Stander said that it was almost impossible to make a selection. “Where does one start? There were some special moments. Burry really made us all very proud.”

Charles Stander asked the cyclists who are planning to participate in Memorial Rides in memory of his son, not to let their emotions get the best of them. “This is the last thing that Burry would have wanted.”

The funeral arrangements will only be finalized by next week.

Zoon Cronje, ZCMC, said that a Burry Stander Foundation will be established to fund and drive the process to change legislation concerning cycling safety as well as assist various projects to promote safe cycling.

“Our initial plan with the Burry Stander Foundation is to raise funds to help to pay for any legal costs that may be incurred to drive the process. Later on we hope to not only assist various safe cycling initiatives but also to assist talented young riders to fulfil their dreams.” Stander was already associated with projects like Songo.info with his Epic partner Christoph Sauser.

The official memorial rides will be used to not only drive awareness but also hand over petitions to the MEC. Cronje added “We are fortunate to have the organisers of the Pick n Pay Cape Argus Cycle Tour helping us with the Cape Town leg, the organizers of the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge assisting with the Gauteng leg and also support from Andrew Maclean via CycleLab and Fritz Pienaar via Advendurance. There will also be a ride on the South Coast where Burry is from”

 

Sailing you have got to love it


Just went out sailing with my brother on his multi 23 – a performance trimaran that he sails on the Vaal Dam – an inland body of water quite near to JHB in South Africa. This is where my formative years were spent combining a combination of windsurfing, dinghy sailing and chasing girls …..

The multi is a great sportsboat and one that i would enjoy to race on. We popped up the A3 on one reach and even with those hulls buried there is no feeling that it is going to pitch pole ….. would be even more interesting on saltwater with extra bouyancy.

Here is a video of them sailing from last year ..

i have to confess that this is out of my price league although would be good to have a WETA trimaran – which is closer to my disposable budget ……

 

Videos of the year


screen grab - click the link below - or the picture

A decent selection from the fellas at the estimable “Science of Sport blog, some of which you’ll have seen already, but they’re all worth watching again.
http://www.sportsscientists.com/2011/12/science-of-sport-awards-videos-of-year.html

The buck stops here – Mountain Biking in South Africa


Mountain Biker, Evan van der Spuy of Team Jeep South Africa got taken out by a RED HARTEBEES at amountain bike race at Albert Falls Dam. Check out this crazy footage which was taken by team mate Travis Walker on his GoPro Camera (great footage watch at 480)- The BUCK sure does STOP HERE with Evan van der Spuy

Surfing Legend: Sean Tompson’s Surfer Code (Bustin’ Down The Door)


Shaun Tomson‘s Surfer Code

– I will never turn back on the ocean
– I will always paddle back out
– I will take the drop with commitment
– I will know that there will always be another wave
– I will realize that all surfers are joined by one ocean
– I will paddle around the impact zone
– I will never fight a rip tide
– I will watch out for other surfers after a big set
– I will pass on my stoke to a non-surfer
– I will ride, and not paddle in to shore
– I will catch a wave every day, even in my mind
– I will honor the sport of kings

Too many people look at the latest videos but Bustin’ down the door documented a seminal change in the mindset of groms in the 70’s and 80’s. The doccie was made in 2009 and is well worth renting / buying

During the winter of 1975 in Hawaii, surfing was shaken to its core. A group of young surfers from Australia and South Africa sacrificed everything and put it all on the line to create a sport, a culture, and an industry that is today worth billions of dollars and has captured the imagination of the world. With a radical new approach and a brash colonial attitude, these surfers crashed headlong into a culture that was not ready for revolution.

Surfing was never to be the same again.

Danny MacAskill in Cape Town – showing the city how to ride


 

As a result of three video votings, we love to present the complete video. Enjoy the video and see Cape Town with the eyes of a street trials pro rider. For Danny, the city is one enormous playground.

Wont embed http://youtu.be/CHLtVhTaZjA