11 Aug, 2015

If you go solo, make sure you don't crash


Eric Tollner's Cape Point to Knysna Challenge 2015

Day five, somewhere in the Swartberg mountains. And it was Tuesday 7 July.

With the Cape Point lighthouse on the far horison behind him, Eric Tollner coasted down a pristine convict-built sand road towards the Karoo. His feet were gloved in their old-school pedal cages and his helmet perched itself on his handle bars.

He was - for a moment - a mountain biking “Easy Rider” as his beanie protected his ears and sandy blonde hair from the wind’s shrill. He could almost hear the lament of Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” as he extended his arms outwards, like an albatross, feeling the wind beneath them lightening the load of his backpack.

The instant he felt his front wheel wobble, three immediate things came to mind. He was alone. He would hit the deck. He wasn’t wearing his helmet.

As he grabbed for his handle bars, the weight from his backpack, saddle bags and body caused the bike to snake in the sand and his front wheel swept away from under him. The ground smashed into him with the force and fury of a large shovel and the restrictions from the equipment caused him to slide onto the sandy road with the gracelessness of a bag of cement.

As the world’s spinning centred, Eric lay on the ground for a few seconds. His adventure was over. Or, if he could only get to his feet, had just begun.

Five days earlier …

Day one, Thursday 2 July, Lara Tollner dropped her husband and his bike off at the Cape Point lighthouse before the sun rose. If all went to plan, they would be reunited nine days later in Knysna, the day before Eric’s attempt at the Knysna Forest Marathon.

Except for a mobile phone, he would be without contact for most of the time and reliant on an A4 map and a list of farmer’s phone numbers.

Inspired by two-year old James Read who is recovering in the UK from his second stem cell transplant, Eric would be riding as one of The Cows™ to help raise funds for CHOC, the kids’ cancer charity.

Fuelled with rations of oat-ladened Herbalife shakes and a variety of snack foods (nougat, biltong, Salticrax, sandwiches and copious amounts of chocolate), Eric would rely on the towns he encountered for supplies. Dinners would range from curries, pizza, lamb stews or two-minute noodles infused with tuna depending on whether he spent the night in a town, farm or tent. Cappuccino sachets were a daily necessity.

Day one of his trip would take him along the beaches of False Bay before veering through Stellenbosch and onto the French corner that is Franschhoek for his first stopover.

Thereafter, he would venture off-road for day two into the mountain foothills towards Greyton.

The 16 kilometre portage across the Greyton McGregor trail would be the jewel of day three. Several hours of careful foot placements burns the quads as much as it does the concentration levels.

“Being a runner and not a cyclist, I really enjoy the hikes. The motion comes more naturally to me than riding so I quite look forward to the portage,” said Eric, “It gives my butt a break. The combined weight of the pack and bike make for a meaty portage but you break it up into small chunks, stop and rest along the way and it becomes manageable. The rest of the day is lovely riding so you get a chance to recover.”

The sweeping roads which welcomed him on the ridge of the trail would provide comfort with the knowledge that he was well onto the rolling end of the 900 kilometre monster ride from Cape Point to Knysna.

Although encountering one is a rarity, leopards are a definite reality up in the mountains from the Baviaanskloof to the Cederberg. Camera traps spot them regularly and there are amazing stories of climbers getting a wake-up call in the middle of the night and coming face-to-face with one.

Day four’s long day would take Eric from Montagu to Wolverfontein, above the Touws River, where he would be welcomed by the warm hospitality of Ashley and Andre at the Wolverfontein farm. Day five would see him threading his way between the Langeberg and Swartberg mountains towards Bonniedale onto the crash site.

“Wiping out on day five was the worst part of the ride. With the weight of the bike and pack I came down really hard. Sitting in the veld alongside, scraping out the stones and dirt, I thought I'd completely stuffed up the entire trip in one moment of stupidity,” said Eric.

“It was stupid,” he added, “sitting up and riding without holding on to the handlebars. Like any self-respecting guy, I first checked the bike to make sure it wasn't too badly damaged, then looked around to see if anyone else saw it (unlikely in the middle of the Karoo!). I have a basic first aid kit with Panados and some duct tape, but it was difficult riding long hours on the following days to nurse it properly.”

That night, Eric’s hosts at Vanwyksdorp, Nicole and Claire, were “truly welcoming of their limping visitor smeared with blood.” After insisting on the application of a specially-treated patch, they provided him with a wonderful dinner enlivened by fireside conversation. He could've stayed and chatted for hours were it not for the long day which awaited.

Eric and his bloody knee would soldier on through day six, leading him to his wild windy night on top of the Swartberg Pass. A special 'white chocolate cappuccino' sachet had been saved for his dinner treat to celebrate the end of his biggest day. The wind ripped and roared at the flimsy canvas. The tent was weighed down with rocks but still that did not alleviate Eric’s concern that it would soon be torn apart.

For warmth he slept with all his clothes over his cycling kit, and in case he was forced to pack up and ride out in the middle of the night. The relentless wind ensured he could not tend to his knee which was turning into a grisly and painful affair. It would be two days before he could clean it properly.

Finally at 04:00, the wind yielded. He boiled himself a cup of coffee from the safety of his tent and looked down on the Klein Karoo. With the landscape lit up by moonlight and serenity, Eric would remember this as the most peaceful and perfect part of the trip.

The next few days would take him just north of the Outeniqua Mountains, onto the Seven Passes road before arriving at the lighthouse near Knysna’s east head in time for sundowners on Thursday evening. His ride was officially over.

Friday would be a relaxing affair with breakfast at the Whitewashed Café in Knysna with its famous sisters, Candice and Tammy, and the CHOC representatives, Debbie Kleinenberg and Sue Minnaar.

The Saturday marathon loomed. His hips and knee ached from the fall and a chunk of flesh was still AWOL from his elbow. His muscles however were fine and he could still lift a beer with his good arm.

The following day on Saturday 11 July, officially day 10 of his quest, a smiling Eric with a weeping knee - having endured nine days of solo-mountain biking across some of South Africa’s most beautiful roads and mountains - would run and complete the Knysna Forest Marathon in an impeccable time of four hours and seven minutes.

For more in depth stories from Eric, click here:-

If you’d like to donate something to CHOC (maybe the value of a cup of coffee), you can do so here: -
One lucky donor will win an awesome Mountain Biker sculpture made by Eric himself, from his sculpting studios in Noordhoek. The sculpture is in sterling silver and will be accompanied by a signed certificate bearing the number of the piece and the date it was made.

Roberto Riccardi

Roberto Riccardi

Journalist |