14 Apr, 2015

Falling for a last holiday ride


By Marie-Ann Meijers

Sunday morning and the alarm goes off.

It’s the last Sunday of the holidays and I open one eye and look over the vlei at the breaking dawn. Do I really want to get up and go on a four hour ride with a bunch of strangers?

But hey, I said I would and it is Cycleworx's last ride on the December holiday program. All my cycling buddies have gone home already.

So I jump out of bed (ha ha), okay I crawl out of bed, and get into my snazzy cycling outfit. For a bit of a confidence boost, I decide to wear my cool French pink check outfit, after all, who knows how fast these guys are, or how patient? And this time I'm not riding into town and doing the extra seven kilometres there, I'm putting my bike on the car.

I arrive there and there is nobody. Ok, I'm 10 minutes early and the shop van is there. Then another rider arrives on a road bike. So I get out the car and put my cleats on. Yes, that's right, my cleats. For a week now I am no longer a 'non clip-on'. But from what I understand, it's gravel travel so I should be ok.

Eugene, Cycleworx's owner, comes out the shop, chats to the guy on the road bike who then leaves. Everybody has bailed, so it's just Eugene and I. Eugene had the onset of a slight flu but came because he is taking the ride, and I had a slight, very slight, red wine head. Neither of us were too keen but we decided to ride anyway, and am I glad we did.

But the plans were changed. Eugene suggested we put the bikes in the back of the van and go and ride at Farleigh, in the foothills of the Outeniqua. Great idea. However, as we get to Barrington’s, Eugene decides to park there and we ride up from there.

"Um, that hill?" I squawk. But Eugene just looks at me, smiles and says he knows a better road, but we still get to the top. Yeah really …

So I listen to my guide and we mount our steeds and pedal off up the dirt road. I have informed the poor man that I'm only recently in cleats and haven't been off-road on them yet! No problems, all forest roads. Just some of them very unused …

So we get to the base of the hill and we start going up. I think Eugene saw my face and realised this was my hill, so we did a U-turn and turned up another side road and slowly started to climb through the pine forests.

And this is where I get to admit to all my cycling friends who ride in cleats, yes they are all correct, it is much easier in cleats. One does not use nearly as much energy, as one can push and pull. One is more solid on the bike and standing on the pedals is so much easier. (But there is still the issue of disconnecting quickly.)

We cycled along the undulating forest road, which definitely had more up than down, but because it gave brief respites from up, it did not feel nearly as difficult as it should have. They have been logging up there and a lot of the previous plantations are to be returned to fynbos. There are some beautiful flowers along the way. And the views are spectacular! One can see the Outeniqua Mountains on the one side and the green valleys on the other.

Luckily I had taken my little camera with me, which is waterproof and shockproof (shockproof is what I need) and took some lovely photographs. Often I find it difficult to take photographs as other riders have to wait for me. I carry my camera in a little bag that straps in front of my saddle.

Once on top, we descended into the forest of beautiful shady trees and ferns. Frogs were croaking and birds tweeting. Only natural sounds, no cars or people, it was amazing. We stopped at a river crossing where Eugene had a swim. I took my shoes off and paddled through the river but chickened out of an actual swim. The water in the river is a clear dark brown from all the tannin. After our refreshing stop, we got back on the bikes and climbed out the valley.

Some of the roads we were on are part of the Outeniqua Hiking Trail. Then we went on a less-used road. This was a bit more difficult and sometimes it became a single track. There were branches across the track at places, lots of roots and trees growing in the middle of it. This is the kind of riding I love. However as it was a bit more challenging, the cleats came into play.

And yes, I took two tumbles, over sideways with feet still connected … Poor Eugene doesn't know my history of involuntary dismounts, and came running over to me, very concerned. But the only problem was lying in the bushes on the side of the track and trying to disconnect my feet from the bike so I could get up. Not very graceful!

A bit further along the path we came along a tree that had been uprooted and was lying across the path. We had to dismount and clamber underneath it. On the other side was elephant dung! It could only be from the secretive Knysna elephants. It was obviously not at all recent, but still gave a feeling of awe that these huge animals still live free and wild up here in the forests, and I was riding along a path that they had walked.

And suddenly we were back on mainstream gravel road. Eugene showed me a mountain hut that one can stay in. In fact, he does cycle tours in this area and you can do trips with him through the forests, staying at different mountain huts. That's just one of his trips. He organises Karoo expeditions, coastal rides of several days. In fact I'm going to check with the other '50 shades of ...Mud' girls if they are keen to do his Hermanus to Mosselbay trip later this year. There are so many beautiful places to ride in this country, and how better than with someone who knows the area!

A little climb up to the Forestry Station and then a big downhill through Poffadder pass back to the farm. But that's not where the fun ends because Barrington Farm now has a Trail's Cafe. So we had coffee and a homemade boere breakfast quiche. Yummy. Well-deserved after those hills. If you go riding in the area or are just driving through, it’s definitely the place to stop for some nourishment. Really good coffee and lots more. Eugene bought some delicious looking chocolate cupcakes to take home.

Thanks Eugene for a lovely Sunday morning ride! I had a wonderful time and even have a beautiful bruise on my bum to show for it!

If you are in the area and want to ride something different - Contact Eugene on