I knew it wasn’t going to be a great day for me when I had to reach for a gel five kilometres into the eight kilometre neutral section at the start. Damage control would be the order of the day.
The neutral zone led straight into first climb: the infamous Gumtree climb. This started fairly casually, and gradually ramped up the intensity until we were on concrete strips that felt near vertical. It was a battle to keep the front wheel down, but I hate getting off and set myself the challenge to make it to the top.
After refueling at the first water point, we were into the rolling farmlands until the drop into Harrison’s Pass. This was worthy of the hype, and I was fortunate to have it mostly to myself. You literally fly 300 metres down from the top of the world to the Nzinga River on the valley floor, via a series of switchbacks, with the whole valley spread out below you, and only the odd startled cow to deal with.
Crossing the Nzinga River we then hit a gradual climb up to the next piece of single track heaven, the aptly named Rock 'n Roll. Here my luck ran out and I got stuck in a traffic jam of epic proportions as riders fell apart at the sight of rocks in the trail. Cue a very long rant about the skill levels of South African mountain bikers.
This may ruffle some feathers, but it’s devastating that people put so much time and money into training for a race, and buying great equipment, but completely fail to address the fundamentals of riding a mountain bike. It is even sadder when said riders refuse to give way to faster riders on single track sections. Today I heard several excuses for not moving over, including: “everyone else is walking” and “I didn’t hear you” when I asked for track. I am no Greg Minnaar, so these riders must be going pretty slowly. I understand that not everyone has the confidence or desire to enjoy flow on a trail, but it is polite to move over when convenient, if requested.
After the second water point, it felt like we climbed for a lifetime. The heat started to take its toll, and I ran out of water. We climbed up through the plantations, occasionally popping out into the open in what felt like Alpine terrain: pine trees surrounded by smooth grassy hills. Spinning it out was the order of the day, as I tried to occupy my mind with happy thoughts.
At last we summited, and every second of climbing was made worthwhile by the wonderful descent on the Sappi Trails. We whizzed down trails with names like Shake it Off and Pine Sublime, full of pine needles, bermed corners, and fast open sections and endless endorphins.
From here it was pretty much a case of surviving the remainder of the ride, on rolling district road, and some grassy single track into Glencairn Farm.
Tomorrow we have a “rest day” as we ride 83 kilometres to the MacKenzie Club along the exquisite Sani2c trails.