Day 19 RONDAWEL TO GAMKASKLOOF 130KM
We were out of Rondawel and into the cold blackness of the Karoo at 5am. Still pitch dark, we made our way along the almost straight stretch of farm jeep track that would take us to Prince Albert. The dark night sky was clear and when Gerald turned around to back track and retrieve a map he thought he had dropped from a fenced farm gate we climbed over earlier, Neville and I waited for his return but at the same time witnessed a clear run of a shooting star off the horizon as it burnt out in a fizzle of light. It had been a long time since I had witnessed one so clear and out here in the Karoo one could see the galaxy of stars spread out for ever!
With Gerald back on track, the ride onto Prince Albert was cold, fast paced but uneventful. There were just the endless tracks and the odd sliver through sand along with gratitude when the sun broke the horizon to start warming up a cold start to the day.
We eventually arrived at the main district road coming off the farm track and a little more compacted surface. Prince Albert in the distant, we could smell breakfast coming and at the same time the sensation of lifted spirits. We eventually arrived in Prince Albert at 10.30am and then moved onto Dennehof Guest House, the checkpoint, for a much needed energy breakfast. En-route through the town, we decided to stop at the local post office to purchase three boxes so we could sort through our spares and gear and send some of it back home. This was to lighten the load. We were now in the Western Cape province and shedding some weight off the back pack and bike could prove beneficial for the last stretch to Diemmerfontein.
At Dennehof we tucked into breakfast and then set about sorting through our belongings. Boxes packed and sealed we asked our host if he wouldn’t mind posting them for us of which he obliged and us so grateful.
At 12pm we saddled up and rode out of Prince Albert, our next stop the infamous Gamkaskloof and into Die Hel (English translation: The Hell)! To get here we would have to negotiate the fabulous Swartberg Pass seeped in history and hand built by prisoners many many years before. The afternoon was going to be testing as there was plenty of climbing in store.
Gerald rode well ahead of us for some time while Neville and I opted to ride and walk some of the way. I was in total awe of the natural beauty around me. The road up the pass was dotted with the one or two cars as tourists made their way on a sightseeing tour. One even stopped to chat to Neville and I and were gob smacked at where we had come from and where we were going. On a bicycle that is! They had witnessed madness first hand!!
We eventually reached the pass summit and then a right turn off the main pass road showed us the way to Gamkaskloof where signs warned of using the road at your own risk. The ride seemed endless and I started to fatigue again as mid afternoon approached. An eventual fast, long and fantastic descent after some endless climbing laid way to another climb before us which would be the last for the day before dropping down into the Gamkaskloof valley. This was an endless twisted line that seemed never to end, climbing higher and higher looking at it on approach. On the final climb, light was fading fast and Neville had pushed ahead leaving Gerald and I to make it on our own. Gerald and I made the summit just as last light faded.
We still needed to drop down into the valley to our overnight stop and a long descent off a narrow rutted dirt road with endless switchbacks would require concentration and responsible choices in the dark. Gerald’s light was not the brightest and I surged ahead with my 1000 lumen beam shouting out to him just behind me of every switchback we had to engage when turning so he was aware. I kept to the inside lane and wall of the mountain we were dropping off, faintly making out the sheer drops and dark abyss on the opposite side. I would have loved to have seen this in the day time.
As we popped out at the bottom of the mountain, so we were hit by a wall of freezing cold dense air as well as dense vegetation all around on either side of the road. We followed the road for some distance until we came to our destination checkpoint which was a little confusing as we were not too sure what we were looking for. There is no power in the Gamkaskloof valley and much primitive setup.. Generators and gas was probably the key source of power and heat.
We eventually found our host at 19h00 who was not even aware we were coming through even though race office was notified of our plan to stop over. We met up with Neville and were taken to our sleeping quarters for the night and advised that food was on the way. It was freezing!
The food arrived. Piping hot homemade wholesome food and lots of it! We were advised that we could only get breakfast at 8am the following morning and so we needed to make a call to leaving early with no breakfast or staying and having breakfast.
All fed up, cleaned and prepped we all staggered off to our individual sleeping quarters which by way were old stables but converted into small rooms, just big enough for a single bed or two.
Gamkaskloof, a valley seeped in a lost era of history, was quiet. The cold was numbing as I pulled the blanket up after blowing out the candle.
Laying in the dark I recall my last thought before drifting off …This has been one incredible journey so far!….