From the 17th to the 18th of November 2012, an extraordinary adventure and challenge awaits bold, daring and fearless mountain bikers. A two stage race will be taking place for the 18th time. One so fierce that a reporter described it soon after it was implemented as a ‘bone breaker, bike shaker, sweat maker, nerve taker. Surely one of the most gruelling cycle tours in Africa’.
There is a reason this race has been hosted since 1995. No one can or will forget it, and every year someone wants to be a part of it. Is this you?
The To Hell and Back extreme mountain bike tour started in 1994 when two crazy conservators decided that it would be a great idea to organise a race to Gamkaskloof (referred to as the hell). At that stage it was aimed as a marketing campaign for Gamkaskloof to attract tourist interest to this remote valley. Little did they know that this would lead to the birth of a new legend – the annual To Hell and Back mountain bike race.
Gamkaskloof is situated in the heart of the Swartberg Mountains, and has a history as fascinating as the natural beauty and splendour thereof. It is almost certain that the first inhabitants of Gamkaskloof were Bushmen. Only in 1830 did European farmers first establish themselves there and farmed with goats, wheat and beans. Later the valley became renowned for the high quality of its dried fruit and for many years the inhabitants were self-reliant and essentials such as salt, paraffin and sugar were brought in with pack mules from Prince Albert through the northern gap formed by the Gamka River. A road was built in 1963 on the eastern side of the valley to provide the necessary access for the inhabitants. There were never more than 100 people living in the valley at any given time. However, long droughts followed by floods, together with the new access road and young people leaving for bigger schools, led to the final exodus of the inhabitants out of the valley.
The To Hell and Back mountain bike route starts at the entrance of De Hoek holiday resort near the Cango Caves. Riders will follow a tarred road, approach a gravel road snaking through the farms in the Cango valley and after a few very steep climbs towards the Swartberg pass, riders will follow a road known as the longest mountain pass in South Africa, and end at the camping site at the base of Elandspad. The second day will start with the gruelling climb up Elandspad. Following the same route back to De Hoek, riders will then turn each relieving downhill from the previous day into pedal pushing climbs. The race will finish in the campsite of De Hoek.
According to Petrus Malherbe, defending champion of this extraordinarily challenging mountain bike race, the uniqueness lies in the opportunity to ride up the Swartberg pass, all the way down to ‘hell’, where Gamkaskloof is. ‘Riding towards the hell has its views of wildlife and birds flying, with you going downhill,’ Malherbe said as he hopes for another victorious finish to what is known to be the first ‘stage race’ ever held in South Africa. Malherbe blames the fact that getting a good camping spot was what created the necessary drive to win the first stage. When returning from an extremely tough day, an unexpected and incomparable buzz and vibe awaits utterly challenged riders, quickly forgetting about their exhaustion, and immediately remembering their thirst – despite a sufficient number of water points throughout the race. It is especially during this overnight stay, that, according to Marelize Rhodes from the organising company, Ecobound, the participants become like family.
Become part of this intrepid mob of mountain bikers who clash on the uphill hairpins of the Swartberg pass and the hairy descent to Gamkaskloof in the Klein Karoo. Become part of the minority who is brave and venturesome enough to claim the unique distinction of having been to hell and back. It is time to face your fears. It is time to ride to hell, and back!
To keep the impact on the environment minimal, only 500 riders will be allowed to enter.
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