Kamberg to Hazeldean Farm
It was an emotional morning for Andrew and I today. We were almost in tears at the prospect of saying farewell to the hospitality of the Glengarry campsite in Kamberg at dawn. We’d had an amazing stay. A river to cool our legs in. An amphitheatre of mountains surrounding us. Succulent pork for dinner. Attentive mothering from the lovely parents of the Howick Prep School. These are the things that make the world of difference after a long day of suffering in the saddle.
As tough as it was to leave we knew that 94km away lay the equally splendid stop under the autumnal oak trees of Hazeldean Farm. But the 94km wasn’t going to be a cake walk. Almost 2000m of vertical ascent lay between us and the legendary next overnight stop. And one of our summits was to be Snowtop Pass, at 1864m above sea level, the highest point of the 2012 Old Mutual JoBerg2C.
I went out hard with the front bunch on a fast rolling district road and was impressed when I stopped for a spectacular photo opportunity and Andrew came trundling past only a few moments later. I remounted my bike and rode up to Andrew to cruise the Snowtop climb together. We were hauling, although Andrew has just confessed to “tasting blood” in the back of his throat for most of the morning. It was a long twisting climb that offered spectacular views in every direction.
The first waterpoint at the top of the pass was a shrine. A spread of potatoes, chelsea buns, crunchies, Bar Ones, fruit cake, homemade banana bread and oatmeal cookies was set upon with gusto. Unfortunately Andrew was right on my tail and I only managed to stop for a small sampling of the treats before he beckoned me down the 12km high-speed descent.
Despite his calls to get moving, I lingered a little too long at the waterpoint. Which meant I was a minute or five behind Andy off the mountain. Which, in turn, meant that when my bike’s freehub body seized at the bottom he was still ahead of me blissfully unaware I was unable to carry on. Not that he would have been much use, mind you. When it comes to the mechanics of a bicycle, lets just say Andy wouldn’t be the first person I’d turn to in a pickle…
In his stead appeared Gerald de Kock. The SuperSport presenter has been following the event since day one. He had intended to be riding as well as commentating for the TV packages sent out each evening. The man works hard. But he came down with a stomach bug just days before the start and so, not wanting to miss out, he has tracked the route daily, offering support and watching the riding up close. Crucially, he has been driving along the route with his trusty Scott mountain bike stashed in the boot of his Subaru.
After trying to fix my bike for a few minutes I noticed Gerald was just a few hundred metres up the road. I scooted my bike up to him and realised he was also stranded. His car battery was flat and he was about to get jump started by the Emergency Medical Team. He asked me what was wrong and whether he could help.
I think my wheel has seized, I said.
Well, you’re welcome to use mine, he offered.
That would be great. Is it a 29-inch 10-speed?
Um, no. It’s a 26-inch 9-speed.
But it is attached to a bike. Why don’t you just take the whole thing!
Perfect. With that Gerald removed my race number and stuck it on his handle bars. We then set about changing my pedals over, which, if you read my first blog post of our JoBerg2C journey, you’ll remember I couldn’t remove back in Cape Town to pack my bike into its box. Fast forward six days and I simply feigned ignorance and fatigue and asked the EMT guy who had just sorted out Gerald’s car to please help this weary cyclist with these stubborn pedals. No, I have no idea why they are so tough to get off… Yes, you’re right they shouldn’t be. Damn bike shop mechanics with their over-zealous wrenches. As Gerald and I looked on the EMT guy spent the next 20 minutes trying to find something with enough leverage to crack the thread on my pedals. He ended up taking his 4×4’s wheel jack apart and finally, with veins pulsing and sweat pouring off his bald head, he got them loose.
An hour after I thought my day’s riding was over I was back on the road again. On a 12kg dual-suspension mountain bike with 26-inch wheels and the brakes fitted the wrong way round (I have my front brake lever on the right). But beggars can’t be chosers. And I will forever be grateful for Gerald’s incredible generosity. What a guy. There wasn’t even any hesitation in his voice when he offered me his prized steed. Clearly he doesn’t know my track record with test bikes. Chapeau, Gerald!
A lot of riding remained, including the knee-deep crossing of the Lotheni River, a long technical climb on red earth on the facing bank, and a final few rollers into the magnificent Hazeldean Farm. I found Andy asleep at the second waterpoint, wondering what had happened to me, but clearly not concerned enough to do much about it.
We tackled the remaining hills together, engaging in the usual banter as we picked our way through the field. Until we had to descend, that is. The moment gravity started to drag us downhill, I was forced to repeat out loud: “Left hand: front! Right hand: rear!”