In true Dirtopia style, the vibe is laid-back. There is no hustling into the start chute and jostling for position. It is about getting out on your bike and enjoying the countryside. In this case, the countryside is particularly easy to enjoy. Caledon in spring is characterised by vast, rolling fields of bright yellow canola blossoms, interspersed with blankets of green wheat.
The route is predominantly open farm roads, with a few fun sections of single track. Ideal for clearing out the cobwebs and getting back into the swing of covering ground on a mountain bike, and we couldn’t have hoped for better conditions, with clear skies and comfortable temperatures.
Day 1: 57 km 1 050 metres ascent
The first day took us in a loop from the start at the Caledon Hotel and Casino under the N2 highway towards Greyton. The first and only truly nasty climb of the event, “Jean se Bult” hit us head on twenty kilometres in. This ploughed straight up the side of the hill on corrugated stubble: no smooth, comfortable switchbacks here. It quickly thinned out the field.
After a fast steep descent, we were back onto rolling farm roads, before tackling another long steady climb. Things got a bit interesting on the ensuing descent: a couple of sneaky ruts lay in wait to claim the front wheel of careless riders, from the squealing brakes around me, I wasn't the only one fighting to hold a line.
The remainder of the route hugged the skirts of the mountains alongside the N2, undulating rather painfully. After two hours on the bike, my legs were sending a clear message to say they were quite happy with the ride so far and would like to stop now. The route had other plans.
We crossed the N2 tantalisingly close to the finish at Caledon Casino and promptly headed out in the opposite direction until once again we were lost in the peaceful quiet of yellow and green fields. After feeling the stab of one or two more sharp climbs it was time to head for home and the lure of an ice-cold Coke at the finish.
Day 2: 58.5 km 1000 metres ascent
The second day saw us loop out in the opposite direction towards Tesselaarsdal and the escarpment. A highlight for me was riding through the wind farm: right underneath the massive turbines. They may not be to everyone’s taste: but I find them strangely soothing and beautiful against the backdrop of the yellow fields.
The climbing today was gradual: undulating hills with plenty of fast open gravel descents to rest the legs. Once again, the perfect conditions meant it was a pleasure to be on the bike with good company and even better views.
The toughest climb of the day was a somewhat sandy stretch up to a singletrack section that winds along the escarpment with the most breathtaking views of the green patchwork of the Hemel en Aarde Valley spread out below. There are few rocky sections, and fast sandy turns to keep you on your toes, before you weave your way back to the farmlands to tackle a few more rolling hills.
Once again, my legs were protesting, and it was a case of knuckling down and spinning to the finish while enjoying the views and the warmth of the early spring sun.