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2001 Biking South Africa

Beitbridge to Cape Point on Two Wheels | June/July 2001 | 2537km

During June and July 2001 we cycled 2537km from Beitbridge to Cape Point to raise funds for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. Neither of us are your average cyclist. Our combined age was 95; our combined weight 200-odd kgs! Although we had done some long-distance cycling, we averaged only 14-18 kph over long distances.

This is the story of our journey...

Day 01, Saturday, June 16 (Youth Day)
Beitbridge to 16km before Alldays
112.5km @ 18kph

Our first day on the road epitomised the best that touring by bike has to offer. A clear, warm, wind-free day. A quiet road through African bushveld. Our planned distance achieved. Our support team (my mom and dad) collected Charl and I at Messina station and dropped us – much to the amusement and amazement of those waiting to cross the border – at Beitbridge. Our first 16km south on the N1 were soon and safely accomplished; the rest of the day was spent on the traffic-free Silvermine road that cuts west from Messina to Bridgewater. The day’s highlight: baobab trees in their dozens. Each with a stately magnificence about them; each distinctive against the backdrop of the bushveld.

We arrived this morning in Messina, just a few kms south of the Zimbabwe border, after a restless night on the train from Johannesburg – to be greeted by a magnificent baobab on the station platform, but no parents! We were early, they were baobab-viewing elsewhere! Neither Charl nor I got quite enough sleep and were feeling tired and a little irritable – anxious too, I suppose.

I had only managed to find a basket for my camera container yesterday. Charl was supposed to get it attached to my bike, but didn’t – and so we had to gerrymander it this morning before we could get going. Which added to our mutual irritation. But this we soon put behind us and we felt cheerful and optimistic for the remainder of the day!

Mom and dad drove us out to Beitbridge where we took photos under the sign … and attached our South African flags to aerials on the back of our bikes – where they wave about at eye-level (for car drivers) and are very, very visible. Let’s hope they keep us safe.

I was quite anxious about the N1 between Beitbridge and the Silvermine Road turnoff … trucks in both directions to/from the border crossing, a narrow road, no shoulder (there were a huge number of trucks waiting to cross the border), but my anxiety proved fruitless and we soon turned off the busy highway and onto the quiet mine road.

The township outside Messina is quite well-established … cement-block houses, quite a lot of greenery, very clean, friendly people. Once we had passed the outskirts of town, however … just African bush out there. On the right hand side of the road is fencing; on the left it is just open veld with a few houses dotted on the hills in the distance. What about lions?

We saw … magnificent baobabs (some with fruit); a bird hovering (Charlie said it was a hornbill – Charlie knows everything); a lone man walking barefoot along the road in the middle of nowhere with a small and friendly brakkie at his heels; a grasshopper of an amazing hue – fresh green and yellow with cream; a tiny, tiny pitch-black little bird sitting on a rock under a baobab tree – absolutely dwarfed by the tree; a bird flat on the ground with a crest on its head and a longish tail; a father and son cycling on the wrong side of the road gently, gently; a bokkie in the distance; a place “where the vultures walk and fly”; some guys in the back of an open jeep on the other side of the fence … Game-watching? Hunting? They didn’t wave or anything – Charl says its because they still fly the Vierkleur out here and probably don’t appreciate our flags; the most enormous spider web in a tree; a guinea fowl crossing ahead of us; the Potgieter farm … their board on the road showing a potjie pot and a plus sign and a gieter; a dead porcupine on the side of the road … but otherwise not much roadkill; four donkeys including a baby; an unbelievably overloaded truck stuck on the side of the road with three black men trying to fix something under the chassis – seemed like a typical scene of Africa; a mine with big buildings and a conveyer belt goodie.

And heard … something biggish skittering off into the bush; but not much else.

Mom and dad returned to their Messina campsite after seeing us off at Beitbridge – to pack up camp. And met us later on the road to provide sustenance, company and support. They went ahead to set up camp at Alldays and later dad came back to drive behind us in the waning light and transport us the final 16km “home”.

Both Charl and I took off our helmets relatively early in the day … probably not wise but it was so quiet and warm and lovely and I guess that we feel freer without the headgear.

From earlyish in the day we could see mountains on the horizon ahead of us. When we reached them late in the day, there were long gentle inclines, undulating terrain, some nice downhill runs … no real climbs. But tiring for all that.

It really was very isolated out there – with a flavour of the wild west. We saw gates bedecked with the skulls and horns of deer and warning “no entry without permission”. Reminds me of a sign in Alaska: Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be prosecuted. What little traffic there was, gave us lots of space.

It was quite different on t’other / this side of the hills – less bushy, fewer baobabs, pretty flat.

It’s quite nice to have the road marked out in 10km distances as this gives you something to work towards, to look forward to.

At 15h45 Charl and I had our first(?) little accident: I was cycling ahead on a hill when I decided to give my knees a break and walk a bit. I put my feet down (after checking my mirror and seeing Charl some way back). Charl, looking everywhere but at the road, ran into the back of me and came off his bike – and was then somewhat pissed!

Didn’t seen any flowers on the roadside for most of the day, but did at one point come across a patch of rather pretty violet flowers.

Later, as the sun was getting low in the sky, our shadows lay long across the road. Which luckily angled slightly southwards so that the sun was not directly in our faces. It was very beautiful out there then.

Nearing 17h30 with the sun just beginning to dip below the horizon, we came to the end of the Silvermine road and turned left towards Alldays with 22km to go.

Charl wanted to keep going in the dark, but I had had enough and we both ended getting in the car (dad had been following us for some way) for the final 16km to our campsite on the outskirts of town. (I lost my flag!)

Where there was an enormous toad in the shower and I was so tired I forgot to switch off my electric toothbrush and for some time could not figure out what was making such an odd sound. And mom had prepared a yummy meal and we knew eating it that we would soon to bed. 

Charl pointed out to us that the front runners at the Comrades today would have averaged more per km than we did!

Messina station
Messina station
Silvermine road
Silvermine road
Silvermine road
Silvermine road
Silvermine road - baobab
Silvermine road - baobab
Silvermine road - baobab
Silvermine road - baobab
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