joBerg2c 2011 Day 8: MacKenzie Club to Jolivet
Stage 8 is another huge day that is usually hugely anticipated by riders. It is the day that we get to drop into the Umkomaas Valley on single track that surely rivals the best in the world. I feel that the route is not as technically demanding as day 4, which leads us down the escarpment into KwaZulu-Natal, but the natural beauty of the Umkomaas Valley and the splendour of the river itself definitely make this stage one to be remembered.
All Systems Go! Go! Go!
Farmer Glen has altered the route and cut out some of the difficult hills to keep us along side the Umkomaas River for longer. A new river crossing has also been added. All systems are go! We make short work of packing, breakfast, and getting our bags, which seemingly are getting heavier, to the Avis trucks. Today, as with yesterday, we are batched. This gives the stronger riders an opportunity to get to the single track ahead of the rest. We are in B-batch. Knowing that we hit the first section of single track after just 7 kilometres we are one of the first to get to the start line. There is some talk again of sani2c day 2, but I must stress (again) that this is the joBerg2c. An entirely different race. Especially this far in. We watch A-batch go off and the excitement builds. It is evident in the shuffling about in the peloton.
A Valley Awakes
In short order it is our turn to set off. We attack the district road that lies between us and the much-revered single track ahead. The first section of track has us overlooking the Umkomaas Valley and we are treated to magnificent views of the valley waking to the morning light, the river shimmering far below us. Soon enough we are going to be at the valley floor, and until then it is all about getting there. Fast!
Supremo Single Track
We are then quickly into the Yankee Doodle section of single track, which is fast and flowing and allows those ahead to really rip up the track! Yankee Doodle gives way to Murray’s Meander, a section of dual track. At times riders on the other track completely disappear from sight. I am not certain which of the routes is quicker and/or better. I just know that the left-hand branch that I took was fabulous!
Switch Me Back
Next up is Nick’s Pass, which leads us further down into the valley through a series of switchbacks. It is possible to get stuck behind slow traffic here, so be polite and try and find some space before you arrive at this section of track. The switchbacks are great, first leading you through some thick, green and lush natural forest and then onto some grassy, open sections from which the valley is easily enjoyed in its enormous splendour.
It Bottoms Out
A school then whizzes past, children cheering like crazy. You will feel like a Tour de France champion given all the enthusiasm that exudes from this cheery little school. As we continue our chase to the bottom we encounter some more brilliant riding. Some testing, some fast. And then we pop out onto a descending ridgeline that shoots us through the veld at an incredible pace. The track is incredibly fast and every turn sweeping. An incredible rollercoaster finish to a phenomenal journeydown into the valley.
A Mighty River
And then you are into the thicket that grows alongside the mighty river. After a bit of riding along the river you pop out onto a farm road and then it is back onto a new section of single track. We ride along either side of the Umkomaas River, and make our way across the river on a brand new bridge. Once on the far bank we keep close to the banks and enjoy some of the most tranquil and beautiful views of this majestic river. The river widens in parts, but is still everywhere. The far bank is thick with natural bush and is seemingly unspoilt and teaming with birdlife. The speed of our descent comes to an abrupt end when we hit our first hill. It is short but very tough; steep as hell and demanding that you choose the right line through. Damn! Now the work begins.
A Fishy Business
We begin our climb out of the valley. Once past the first water table we hit a climb that quickly has us looking down on the valley behind from quite some height. The climbing is relentless and one hill blurs into another. We traverse game farms and pass rural dwellings. The only way is up!
Eventually we top out of the valley and enter a much looked forward to section of single track through sapling forest. The organisers do not disappoint and the route is flowing bliss. Unfortunately Janine gets trapped behind inconsiderate novice riders who will not let her past, despite ample opportunity and several requests. It is disappointing to find this sort of attitude so late in the race.
The track then snakes out and around a dam and we follow the fisherman's trail onwards and towards our last water table for the day. From this point we skirt around blue gum forest and it is comforting to know that we have a reletively easy 16 kilometres of the day’s riding left. It goes quickly. Soon enough we pass under the old railway bridge that marks the end of the dirt, and we ride out onto a newly resurfaced tar road that leads us to the finish at Jolivet Farm.
For more information on this wonderful ride check out the joBerg2c organisers website.