We stayed in a lovely Heritage hotel in the Tulbagh valley although we just about had enough time there to wash, blog, eat and sleep! Our last day is cycling 65 miles to Stellenbosch where Richard, Keith and I will meet up with our wives.
No matter what we seem to try and do, it seems to take ages to cook a few eggs and to have breakfast! We left at about 9.00am. It is our tradition that on the final day of a tour, we wear orange fluorescent shirts, and as usual, we did. Of course, we took the obligatory photos outside the hotel. It was a bit colder so we put on a gilet/rain jackets on top.
The first 18 miles were through yet more spectacular scenery on the rolling roads we have come to love and hate. This county seems to have more to offer around each corner and over each hill. The vistas and scenery are huge and just can’t be captured on a camera. I just hope that as time passes I will recall just how spectacular this trip has been.
Thankfully, Mark had oiled my chain repair overnight and that horrible jumping when I peddled seemed to have stopped – perhaps for the last day I would have a bike that worked properly without any nasty noises!
The main focus of today’s ride was the Bains-Kloof Mountain Pass, built in 1854, which our guide Mark was very excited about. He said there was a short alternative to the day but this pass was very highly recommended if we were up for it. We didn’t really have to think twice as a shorter option isn’t normally taken up! When he showed us the profile of the ride the night before, it looked like another difficult climb but he said it wasn’t that bad. Sure – we believe that one!
The stop before the pass was at the Bergsig Wine Estate and although I wanted to do some wine tasting, decided against it! It was not really the right time. We asked for the normal coffee ice-cream shake and after Mark explained what they were, six were made. We also all went for an apple pie and custard (the custard was a special request of mine. It was not on the menu, but just had to be done, as ice-cream just wasn’t right for that moment!). It was a lovely place to stop and as much as we tried we couldn’t put off starting the pass any longer. It was 4 miles long and all up but Mark reassured us that it wasn’t that bad.
Off we went at about midday and it turned out to be one of the most wonderful, spectacular rides we have ever done! The gradient was steady and in places steeper, but overall manageable, which was just as well, because including the 20 mile warm up on the very first day, this was our ninth day cycling on a row (even the Tour de France cyclists have a rest day after day nine!) and all our legs were feeling tired and sore. My hamstrings were complaining and my back was aching too, so I was taking Ibuprofen during the day and topped that up with paracetamol before the pass, as I wanted to enjoy that without worrying about aches and pains.
We went through the most spectacular pass and valley. On our left was the drop down to a river, with white rocks shining in the sunshine, in contrast to the greenery of shrubs and trees and rocks. On the right was the hillside made of weathered rocks and random boulders of all shapes and sizes. Some on top of each other making fascinating shapes. Around many corners the valley opened out and was even more of a wow than before. Hardly a car passed us either way but we did see another cyclist also going up (who was younger and faster than us!). It was another moment that makes all the hard work worthwhile. We didn’t cycle up much together and we all went at our own pace. It was tough at times and the wind was picking up and starting to make it harder, but nothing else mattered at all, it was just so special to cycle there.
After the summit the next valley opened up in front of us and for me it really did take my breath away. Mark heard me say “OH WOW” out loud and said that was exactly the reaction he hoped to get. Below us was a huge plain of varying greens and browns. The horizon was miles away with more mountains beyond. It was just incredible. What was just as incredible was the 7 miles of downhill we now had in front of us! The plateau was below the level that the pass started at, so the descent was longer than the climb. The descent was almost as spectacular as the way up and I took my time to make sure I made the most of it.
We got to the lunch stop at Wellington but it was late at about 3.00pm with 25 miles still left to go and Mark was making noises about not cycling all the way to the end due to the time and the fact that the wind was now picking up. We were cycling due South towards the coast and the wind blowing directly against us was strong. We could not cut the ride short at this stage so made contact with our wives to say we would be later than expected and set off again at around 4.00pm.
It was very hard work, the wind was so strong and the inclines were not kind to us. We had to pedal downhill too as the wind pushed us back and we could not freewheel much. We all stuck together and cycled as a team but let Mark lead the way to take the brunt of the wind’s force. It was hard and we needed to concentrate a lot to be close enough to benefit from a slipstream, but make sure to keep away from the back wheel of the bike in front and also to not be blown sideways into someone else or the traffic. I think this that was some of the strongest head winds and cross winds we have had to contend with. It was hard but I was energised by it being the last day and I still wanted to push hard and grind it out.
Then Richard got a puncture in his rear tyre. Mark was repaying it very rapidly when all of sudden we hear shrieks and screaming from just down the hill… it was our 3 wives: Lorraine, Simone and Tina! They had worked out where we were and had found us to encourage us for the last few miles and share the moment with us. It was really wonderful and special to see them. But it ended my cycling trip “bubble” with an unexpected surprise. It was the last thing I was expecting and brought me back to reality with a bump. When I’m cycling on the tour I kind of go to a different headspace place and I had not yet got ready to get back to normal so it felt a bit weird.
Anyway, we had a lot of hard cycling still to do and set off again. We saw the ladies after another 7 miles at a rest stop and by now the light was fading and we still had over an hour to go. On we went battling the wind and hills. At the next stop, it was getting to dusk. We did not have any lights on the bikes but had to finish the ride. Richard asked Lorraine, who was driving, to guide us in front and Brian would be at the back in the van as always. It was a great atmosphere with us all working together as a team like no one had anticipated. Tina was looking at how close we were to the car and telling Lorraine to go faster or slower, Simone was navigating and Lorraine driving. All we had to do was pedal!
There was a similar situation at the end of our first bike tour from San Francisco to LA back in 2012. That day we had started by crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, had cycled over 100 miles, were jet lagged and dead tired (we were also younger then!). There we also finished in the dark with the most wonderful sense of achievement and camaraderie and I was wondering if by some weird fate those similar events would bookend the first and last rides on these cycle tour adventures. I truly hope not, but suspect that may sadly be the case.
For the last few miles I was feeling full of energy and didn’t want it to end. As the sun was going down I stopped to take a photo and so the others went on for me to catch up, which was normal. Brian stayed behind me. Fortunately, there was a long downhill stretch just as I started and I peddled hard to catch up. I did and I passed all three of the others. I continued to pedal hard and fast on the next quite long uphill section, when I passed Mark as well. Of course, he wasn’t having that so pressed on hard to go past me! He then said I was a strong rider and should think about joining a local cycling club! That meant a lot to me and I take it to be a big complement but I won’t be joining a club back home – I like cycling with my mates just fine (#TeamDanish).
Just as we were entering Stellenbosh the street light came on which was most welcome as it was getting really dark. Lorraine guided us through town and we eventually got to the hotel at about 7.30pm. What an amazing day!
We then had the normal end of ride photos, high fives and hugs. David and I had a quick last dip in the pool and a very short stretch session. A very quick shower and change then off for a celebratory meal in a local bistro which was lovely with flowing beer and wine for a change too.
We all paid for Mark and Brian’s meals, and gave Brian a tip for all he did. Mark’s will follow in the days to come. They have both been really great and helped make the tour the wonderful adventure that it was. Brian, a man of few words, was very attentive and stuck to his duties really well. It must be mind-numbingly boring following us at as slow speed in the van all day and perhaps that is why he seems so laid back. Mark was a great guide, a superbly strong cyclist, knowledgeable about the county, its politics and issues, the countryside, animals and so much more. He led us really well and got us through the many tough times.
So, that’s it for another year and it has been a fabulous trip, full of the best with memories that I will treasure for life. Guys, thank you so much for sharing this amazing time with me and being such great friends.
Richard, well done and thanks for organising the tour. I don’t know how you manage to fit it in with everything else you do. You did great to get through the whole ride and it’s a shame you didn’t have time to train more before we came as I know you would absolutely enjoy it more if you did. You still have it…!!
Keith, absolutely amazing. You are such a strong rider and should be extremely proud of the way you have got through everything thrown at us these last nine days. Truly inspirational.
David, how come you make it all seem so smooth and easy? Thanks for braving it with me in those freezing pools – perhaps you will actually go for a swim one day?! You’ve also been an amazing friend and support to Richard and that’s special to observe.
For me I’ve achieved almost everything I wanted on this trip. From managing to mostly avoid the cumulative physical tiredness I was worried about, getting my cycle speed record, feeling the benefits of all my hard pre-ride training, and making the most of this privileged opportunity, I’ve really enjoyed this so very very much. I’m very happy that all the hard training I put in for the months leading up to the ride have paid off as I felt strong most of the time and am proud that I have the attitude to push through the hard times. I keep on saying this but I know I am lucky and privileged to be doing these rides, for that I am truly grateful and do my best to make the most of it all.
I can’t sign off without thanking all those who have donated to Prostate Cancer UK as a result of me doing this ride. At the time of writing I have raised almost £4,000 which is just so incredible and that takes me over my £20,000 target that I wanted to raise from all my adventurous exploits. Thank you all so much!