joBerg2c 2011 Day 1: Heidelberg to Frankfort
Get Up and Go!
The morning has finally arrived. My alarm goes off at 04h30 and, having packed the car the night before, it is just a matter of getting some breakfast going (hot oats) and some coffee poured. The plan is to eat, do a last run through of my checklist and then to set off to collect my riding partner, Janine, before making our way to the race start at Karan Beef Head Quarters, which is just outside of Heidelberg and about 45 minutes from Johannesburg at this time of the morning.
It is a pretty chilly morning, and after collecting Janine the drive through to Karan Beef is mostly filled with quiet; a time for contemplating the enormous task that lies ahead. My wife, Jean, who is to drive the car back to Johannesburg once we have set off, is buried beneath a mountain of kit on the back seat of the car. She has decided to make the most of this by hollowing out a comfy spot and going back to sleep.
Milling About the Start
The cold morning is confirmed by the large swaths of frost that cover the open areas that lead us in to the start of the race. The activities at the starting area remain fairly subdued until the P.A. system starts blasting out some music that seems to immediately have its desired effect and sure enough spectators and competitors perk up and get a bit of a spring to their step; The start is near!
5..4..3..2..1.. Race On!
Come 08h00, with all of us competitors lined up at the start behind an enormous Massey Ferguson tractor, the starting countdown is completed and we set out on our 930km journey through some beautiful and demanding riding on our way to the coast. The first day is a ‘neutral zone’ and is not to be raced. This is due to the Vaal Dam crossing; more on that later.
Shortly into the race there is a sharp climb up an evil little hill called Karan Kopie on legs that haven’t really had a chance to warm up yet. The cold day certainly does not help matters. Once at the top we get our first taste of the many kilometres of single track that is to come. The bunches of riders have an option of 2 separate tracks through the frosty veld, both 3.5km in length and both of which are fast and flowing and get the mind racing with expectation.
On the Road on Day 1
The ride then takes us through the maize farms and mielie fields that are so prevalent in this part of the world. Most of the riding is in groups and we wend our way through the farmland towards the might Vaal River. The route stops abruptly at a water table that is situated on the bank of the Vaal Dam. Here we are met by Chinese Dragon Boats, which are our designated transport across the dam, and are most certainly the highlight of the day. Our bikes get a speedy crossing in powerboats and arrive well before us. After piling into the boat we get a crash-course from our Dragon Boat pilot on how to paddle. With the brief lesson over we start paddling like crazy with completely disastrous results. Not only is there no timing of paddle strokes amongst our motley crew of intrepid boat racers, we are also firmly stuck on the bank of the dam. Those at the back immediately applied their paddles to the task of freeing us from the bank and had put in a lot of effort before finally push the boat out of the mud and into the open water, though I am not sure paddles were meant for this type of work. The next trick of course is maintaining an even rhythm between the paddles on either side of the boat. After a bit of drunken weaving everyone’s timing improves and all too quickly we are upon the far bank and retrieving our bikes.
We continue on the route towards our day's destination. Along the way we pass through abandoned farms and empty countryside. There is a particularly tough section along the Wilge River where the ground seems determined to hang on tight to the tires. The power that one is putting into the pedal stroke evaporates and the bikes feel like they are just not moving forwards. The sense of desolation is immense. It drives an inner calm and a sense of peace that distracts the legs from their endless toil. We end in Frankfort and are welcomed by the locals all along the last few kilometres through their town.
The Day is Done
Our dinner is delicious steak, prepared to your taste by various tong-masters, and accompanied by a scrumptious pepper sauce. At the evening presentation we are informed that the route required about 65km of constant peddling due to the mostly flat terrain; my legs are looking forward to an evenings rest.
Our tents are pitched on a rugby field, floodlights on full. This was great to start, but after turning in it really seemed like the middle of the afternoon inside the tent. I eventually fell asleep only to be woken at 4am by the same murky light from the intruding floodlights. And so began Day 2 of my joBerg2c adventure.
For more information on this wonderful ride check out the joBerg2c organisers website.