I have spent 18 days on my bike - something I could only dream of before attempting this - never thought it was vaguely possible to do this. The continuous 12hr+ days are quite strenuous, but the body copes remarkably well with this (to a certain extent in my case). After a while the riding actually became secondary - you forget about the riding, and it becomes more about the whole experience, not just a MTB ride.
I have seen the most magnificent and varied scenery that I could imagine - the fact that we want to tour other countries to see fantastic scenery is beyond me - the variation and the grandeur of our country ranges from the rolling green hills of the Natal Midlands, the KZN bush of the Hela Hela pass area, the flood plains with extensive tracks norh west of Matatiele into the southern Maluti mountains. My initial preconception was that the Eastern Cape is flat - far from it, but there were a number of "wow" moments, when you come out of a mountain range to find a dead flat plain in front of you. The mountains eventually gave way to the rolling hills of Stormberg region, back to the Southern Cape mountain ranges with the extensive river valleys and gorges, and then finally to the flat Karoo that everyone knows.
The weather was fairly kind to us - good, clear days with no wind on most days. The most notable exceptions were the snowfalls when trying to cross the Drakensburg ( and the subsequent days riding in snow), and the night riding on Day 9, when we got rain and -10deg C temparetures. Trying to cope with frozen waterbottles during the mornings across the Eastern Cape became a daily issue - this area must surely qualify as one of the coldest areas in South Africa.
We were exposed to the daily living of a number of different cultures and regional grouping of people across the country - we stayed in their homes with them, ate with them, found out about their communities, economics and problems. This ranged from the Zulu cattle and sheep farmers of KZN, to the Xhosa and Sotho farmers of the Southern Maluti's, the sheep farmer of the eastern cape, the Game Farmer of the Southern cape, and then the produce farmers of the Southern Cape mountains. One thing that really struck me was the number of abandoned farm buildings that we encountered - more land is owned by less people, and apparently a lot of the stock farmers are switching to game / hunting farms, as a result of the better profits.
The common thread running through all peoples was generosity - throughout my trip I have been in need of assistance, and each time I though that I was finished, someone turned up to rescue my day. From the young shepherd boys who gave me a blanket, because that's all they had, to the Terblanche family that allowed me to stay with them while I recovered from my first bout of sickness, everyone gave what they could, without a desire for compensation, other than a word of thanks. At some stage every participant in the race spent a night with someone who knew nothing of the race, but were willing to keep us going. The farmers were an absolute menace though - each time you cross their land you've got to stop to chat and have a cup of coffee!
This is defintiley a great way to tour the country, and is well within the ability of most people - you can pack a bag with your necessities, work out a route, make your bookings, and go MTB touring. You travel quick enough to make some ground in a day, but slow enough to experience the environment around you. I think this is one of Dave's main objectives with this race, and it has definitely opened my eyes to the possibilities that exist.
To Cornel and Ben who went for the record and got it, well done - I don't know where you got the mental stamina to do it. To Gerrit and Xolani, my travelling companions, good luck - you will reach the end soon and finsih the wonderful journey. And to Dave the organiser - I have hated you and admired you, but in the end it has been the most fantastic adventure of my life - I'll probably be back to finish it one day. And thanks to all that followed my story and sent wishes - it was really encouraging to read these at night - maybe you'll all be inspired to stretch your limits a but - it's fun!
From me...over and out