Stage 1 - Black Mountain (sponsored by Romsa)
SONG FOR THE DAY – WE’RE GOING UP . BY TIM MCMORRIS
After two days of travelling and a good rest at the Swartberg hotel, we will be ready for our first challenge.
Nerves for the novices and for some of the hardened campaigners, even some intrepidation for the support crew.
Black mountain awaits us. On a good day it’s a beautiful iconic climb worthy of something out of the Tour De France. On a bad weather day, its cold, daunting, a tough climb even for the drivers. This road is usually open all year. Conditions can change quickly and be harsh. Road closures can be frequent.
A high mountain pass at an elevation of 1,583 meters above sea level climbing 1.000 metres in 12 kilometers, it’s one of the steepest passes in the country. Thomas Bain, with the help of some 250 convict labourers built the pass from 1883 to 1886. He managed to keep the gradient lower than 1:8 throughout the pass. (thanks Thomas)
The road encompasses kilometers of stunning views through twisty hair pin corners, high elevations and steep gradients. Along with striking warped and twisted rock formations and interesting plant life, you will see some amazing drystone work supporting the picturesque hairpin bends. There are relics of an old prison, toll hut and other interesting historical sites too. Running between Prince Albert in the north and Oudtshoorn in the south, the route offers spectacular views over the Little and Great Karoo.
We have done it before, but this time we are going right over the top and down the other side. Average speed on the way up maybe 8km per hour, but it is very fast on the way down, spectacular scenery – enjoy it but don’t overdo it !!! Mountain passes of South Africa website has some great video material of the pass- go take a look.
Our song for the day – We’re going up!!! by Tim Mc Morris “…….The world is yours, look a little bit closer If you want it, come and get it, you can take it over You can make your tomorrows, what you want them to be You got the power in your hands, to shape your history You gotta take it up a level, and go up higher Put more fuel in the tank, and turn up the fire Come on, and take leap into your destiny And come on up, come up, come up with me
We’re going up, up up, and up, up, up………………..”
Stage 2 - 5 passes (Sponsored by Buckman)
SONG FOR THE DAY – SPIRIT OF THE GREAT HEART- JALUKA
We ride out of Red Stone guest farm, which is nestled within what must be one of the most spectacular geological landscapes in the whole South Africa. The striking reddish-hued koppies which we ride through are constructed from iron-rich conglomerates which were deposited by turbulent rivers in the Cretaceous Period, some 130 million years ago.
Through Calitzdorp town centre, before climbing the Huisrivier pass, one of 5 passes we ride on our journey to Laingsburg. This is the second longest stage and 1757 metres of ascent. A lot of the climbing being in the first 70 km of the stage.
We turn off the tar road and onto gravel to seek out the the Seweweeks Poort, which is probably the most beautiful 18 km stretch of gravel road anywhere in South Africa. With easy gradients, multiple river crossings, mind-boggling geology, this road is an absolute joy to ride, as it twists and turns through every angle of the compass. It follows the contorted bends of the river. The area falls entirely under the control of Cape Nature Conservation. It is also a certified Unesco World Heritage Site.
We pass through the Towerkop nature reserve and traverse the 3 remaining passes being the Koueveld, Witnekke and Rooinek. We finish our day at Laingsburg which on January 25, 1981 was devastated by a flood. Within a few hours the whole town was under water and residents were fighting for their lives. It was a traumatic time during which 104 people lost their lives and only 21 houses were left standing. Highwater marks are indicated on lamp posts and in the Dutch Reformed Church, one of the few buildings that remained standing.
We then have a short transit down the N1 to our overnight stop at the famous Lord Milner Hotel in Matjiesfontein.
Our song for the day “ Spirit of the great heart” by Jaluka. How could we not pay tribute to the great Johnny Clegg on our journey. “………The world is full of strange behaviour. Every man has to be his own saviour I know I can make it on my own if I try. But I’m searching for a great heart to stand me by Underneath the African sky. A great heart to stand me by, I’m searching for the spirit of the great heart to hold and keep me. I’m searching for the spirit of the great heart under African sky Sometimes I feel that you really know me Sometimes there’s so much you can show me……………………” Today you will need Great heart to get you through.
Stage 3 - Big Sky (sponsored by Isegen)
SONG FOR THE DAY – AFRICAN BLUE SKY- BY JOHNNY CLEGG & SAVUKA
Our tribute to Johnny Clegg continues. We are moving into Big Sky country , climbing up onto the Karoo escarpment. What better song that African sky blue. The song is asking for the African sky to bless our lives. Today we are truly blessed and privileged to be riding in this beautiful country.
African sky blue, your children wait for the dawn African sky blue, soon a new day will be born African sky blue African sky blue, will you bless my life? African sunshine, soon you will warm your children’s eyes The african river water will dance and leap in your morning light African sunshine African river water, will you bless my life? Oh will you bless my life? Oh will you bless my life? Oh will you bless my life? What can I know? What can I dream? What can I hope? What will the future bring.
We start stage 3 in the main street of Matjiesfontein, after what will have been a memorable night’s stay at the Lord Milner hotel which is located on the fringe of the Great Karoo. The Hotel appears as if out of a conjurer’s hat: an authentic tribute to Victoriana, and the heart of Matjiesfontein Village. The hotel was named for Lord Alfred Milner, who was the governor of the Cape during The South African War (Anglo-Boer War). The gracious grand dame was completed in 1899, and shortly thereafter served as the Headquarters of the Cape Western Command. At The Lord Milner Hotel, historic ambience, old world service and classic comfort combine.
This stage is 103km and is very tough, especially after the previous day’s long effort. 78km of uphill with an 11 km wall near the end of the drag. The last 20km are flat and downhill as we top the escarpment and make our way to the remote farmstead of Rogge Kloof . Rogge Kloof is located in the Roggeveld (Afrikaans for “rye field”), a plateau located in the Karoo region of the Northern Cape, South Africa. The name comes from wild rye which was once plentiful in the area. The range forms the western escarpment of the Roggeveld plateau, and separates it from the lower lying Tankwa Karoo to the west. Salpeterkop (1727 m), a very distinctive conical extinct volcano is visible for kilometres.
Stage 4 - The Wall (Sponsored by Royal Cape Catamarans)
SONG FOR THE DAY – HORSE WITH NO NAME - AMERICA
Yes , we are going back – back to the Wall, back to the Tankwa, back to that finish on Gannaga pass. And yes we are using that song again – it is so apt for a ride through the desert of the Tankwa Karoo.
For those who rode in 2016 the stage was in reverse and who will ever forget the sandy roads and that block headwind. Seeing the Wall for the first time and knowing we had to go up it. Karen being blown off her feet as she climbed and Justin and I huddled on top of the ridge in a gully as we waited for a support car. Rich Gorven’s dramatic drone images of the vast desert.
This time we are going DOWN the Wall (The Ouberg pass). A 45km transit from what I hope will have been an amazing night at RoggeKloof and then we launch everyone down the escarpment. I rode the descent on the recce trip and it is a little technical and lots of loose rocks for a few kilometers, but you are soon racing on fairly good road to the valley below. If the wind blows in the right direction then it will be a quick ride in the valley to the base of Gannaga pass. The pass really kicks up with around 12km to go and it twists its way up the Roggeberg to our overnight stop at Gannaga Lodge. The pub is a warm as ever and the first beer is on us!
The vast expanse of the Tankwa National Park leaves one with a sense of peace and tranquillity seldom found in today’s busy world. The stark natural beauty of the Karoo has a way of seeping into your soul, leaving you yearning for more until you return. And that’s why we just had to go back.
“…..On the first part of the journey I was looking at all the life There were plants and birds and rocks and things There was sand and hills and rings The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz And the sky with no clouds The heat was hot and the ground was dry But the air was full of sound I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name It felt good to be out of the rain In the desert you can remember your name…..” You should know the rest!!!!
Stage 5 - Middle Earth (sponsored by John Harris)
SONG FOR THE DAY – THE CHAIN – FLEETWOOD MAC
We leave the beautiful but rugged Tankwa behind us and the very special Gannaga lodge.
We have a short 30km transit to Middlepos in the Northern Cape and onto undulating roads in a sea of nowhere. We traversed much of the Northern Cape in the first Trans Africa and for those who rode those long roads they will know the terrain we will experience today. Middlepos, a little village with roughly 300 residents, lies almost exactly halfway between Sutherland and Calvinia on the R354.
Some believe Middelpos is one of the last truly authentic Karoo villages because of its remoteness and relative seclusion (no holiday homes for Gautenger’s here).
More farm holdings, than town, Middelpos has a shop, petrol station, police station, post office, a row of houses, and the Middelpos Hotel. The Middelpos Trading Store is still there.
During the spring flower season, the road between Middelpos and Sutherland is particularly beautiful, a secret of the locals, who realise that the combination of old stone buildings, green fields, and the yellow, purple and red of flowers and indigenous bush are a major reason they remain living in this remote, harsh climate.
After 4 stages of pretty tough climbing (6000 metres in total) our stage today is 141km , but the average gradient over the entire distance is only 0,1%. Time for group riding, hugging wheels and spinning through the stage. The terrain maybe bumpy and stony in places, but should be a day just to enjoy the remoteness of these harsh lands.
Our destination Fraserburg. The earliest known inhabitants of the area were the San people and their artefacts and rock paintings can still be found in the area. The first Europeans to arrive in the region were Trekboers who arrived in 1759. The first settler to be recorded in these parts was Willem Steenkamp, after whom the Steenkampsberg is named. In 1851 Fraserburg was established on the farm Rietfontein and named after the Scottish immigrant Reverend Colin Fraser.
We will be billeted around the old Victorian town in 3 separate houses – quaintly named Tuishuis,Kliphuis and Karoohuis.
Our song for the day – The chain by Fleetwood Mac. You are going to need that chain humming and spinning today as you fight to stay on the chain gang (the peloton)
As the song goes:
Listen to the wind blow Watch the sun rise Running in the shadows Damn your love, damn your lies
And if you don’t love me now You will never love me again I can still hear you saying You would never break the chain (NEVER BREAK THE CHAIN) And if you don’t love me now (You don’t love me now) You will never love me again I can still hear you saying (Still hear you saying) You would never break the chain (Never break the chain)…………………….
THE BIKE SONG – MARK RONSON
After a good lie in and a hearty Karoo breakfast, it will be time to switch backdrops from the Karoo to the good old Free State and the Lesotho border lands.
The rest day is one stage earlier than in previous years as we want to take the Team back to some of the terrain that we experienced in 2014, but not before a slight detour (remember this is an Adventure not just a bike race ) to the town of Bethulie where we are going to meet the Book Man of the Royal Hotel, Anthony Hocking.
An overnight stay in hotel with no sign , no front door, some ghosts, some good red wine and some 20,000 books which line the walls of all the public rooms. Anthony will share some stories with us all – We will not forget this overnight stay.
As always we have to have one fun song , for our fun day. The bike song by Mark Ronson: I run around town, around round the town With the pedal to the metal The pedal to whatever I run around town, around round the town With the pedal to the metal The pedal to whatever I run around town, around round the town With the pedal to the metal The pedal to whatever I run around town, around round the town With the pedal to the metal The pedal to whatever Shootin’ round these tricky bends I hear a conversation in my head Thinkin’ of the place to be I sing a little melody instead I won’t argue with myself, Today my legs are gettin’ some help. My mama tells me I should stop Go and get a real job That can’t be the way that I roll And everybody’s growing up, Having kids and paying rent And I’m getting count of it all Gonna ride…
Stage 6 - Past & Present (sponsored by Astrapak)
SONG FOR THE DAY - WALKING ON SUNSHINE -KATRINA & THE WAVES
After a day’s transit and time off the bike, we leave the Royal Hotel and its collection of books and transit 70km to Smithfield for the start of stage 6. Set on the N6 highway between Bloemfontein and East London, the little Free State town of Smithfield markets itself as being “halfway to anywhere in South Africa”.
One of the main attractions in the Smithfield area is the huge Gariep Dam, which is a prime recreation area for Free Staters and overland tourists. A major feature of the dam area is the Gariep Nature Reserve, which boasts a vast springbok population. In the town itself is a most memorable cannon called Ou Grietjie, a muzzle-loading ship’s piece that was used in various wars by the Boers against the Basotho.
The legs are normally quite stiff and sore after a day’s rest, so this stage is designed to get everyone back in the groove. 92km – of hard Free state roads , not much elevation change, just a few little undulations. Probably the easiest stage of 2021. Our destination, Wepener and the Lord Fraser – one of our 2014 overnight stops.
Previously Lord Fraser Guest House was the summer residence of the well-known Lord Ian Fraser of Lonsdale. He was a pilot in the Second World War, but his plane was shot down in combat and he was blind as a result of his injuries. He got married to the nurse who cared for him while he was recuperating from his injuries, and they used to visit South Africa during summer.
With his death in 1974, Lord Fraser wished his home to become the Ian Fraser Memorial College. After the closing down of Fraser’s Head Office in Wepener in 1988, the buildings were donated to the municipality to be converted into a museum. This never materialised and the property was sold to Willem and Wilna Swanepoel in 1993 and they have turned it into the present Lord Fraser Guest House . Our song for the day Walking on Sunshine – a song often used in spinning classes – hopefully the weather plays its part and we have a sunshine day to pedal away.
“……..Oh, yeah, now I’m walking on sunshine, whoa I’m walking on sunshine, whoa I’m walking on sunshine, whoa And don’t it feel good Hey, all right now And don’t it feel good Yeah, oh, yeah, now And don’t it feel good
Walking on sunshine Walking on sunshine
I feel alive, I feel the love, I feel the love that’s really real I feel alive, I feel the love, I feel the love that’s really real I’m on sunshine, baby, oh Oh, yeah, I’m on sunshine, baby………..”
Stage 7 - Border Run (sponsored by Do More Foundation)
We continue our journey through the Free State, skirting the Lesotho border as we search for a pass through the Mountain kingdom. No pass today though , just some more cadence riding all dusty roads – a little tougher than yesterday 114km and almost a 1000 metres of climbing. These are stages that you just need to get done, knock of the kilometres, save the legs (for tomorrow) , but it is like slow poison , the cumulative effect of riding each day starts to bite and as in our song for the day Ridiculous Thoughts by the Cranberries, the chorus is so apt.
But you’re gonna have to hold on You’re gonna have to hold on You’re gonna have to hold on Hold on, hold on Or we’re gonna have to move on We’re gonna have to move on Or we’re gonna have to move on Move on, move on I feel alright and I cried so hard The ridiculous thoughts, oh I feel alright, alright, alright, alright.
The ridiculous thoughts come and go as you fight the battle not only in your legs , but more importantly in your mind. Our overnight stop Cranberry cottage (hence the Cranberries song !!!) - looks like a goodie – we are going to need it because tomorrow a little more climbing and the distance racks up as we move into the foothills of the Barrier of Spears in search of that mountain pass .
Stage 8 - Heading North (sponsored by ED Exports)
This version of Trans Africa is all about retracing some of our routes from previous adventures. Who can forget the ride in 2014 from Zuikerkop. Everyone appeared at breakfast ready to ride even though the dark sky to the North looked ominous. An easy 100km or so it seemed until the Free State and those Maluti mountains delivered up not one but two monster hail storms that pretty much wiped out the field for the day. Only a few hardy souls slogged on through the mud, took cover under trees and in cars and again when the storm turned and came back for more. 10 hours was the elapsed time that day. The Fouriesburg hotel was our destination then and so will it be again in 2021. The stage is not easy , 4th longest and 4th in terms of elevation gain of some 1342 metres. No one big climb, but lots of nasty little undulations which slowly wear you down. The Eastern Free State town of Fouriesburg is in the scenic Brandwater Basin, surrounded by the Maluti, Rooiberg and Witteberg mountain ranges, on the border of Lesotho. It is named after Christoffel Fourie, on whose farm, Groenfontein, it was established in 1892. During the Anglo Boer War, it was declared the capital of the Orange Free State Republic – a proclamation yet to be rescinded! Our sing for the day is Boomtown Blues by Bob Seager. The song is about a man heading North on a pioneering adventure once more,even though he had done his time . The chorus about Heading North, going through that again – hopefully no freezing rain says it all. We honour the 2014 riders who were there then and have come back for more in 2021. Southern sun Ridin’ high Winter nights Warm and dry You’ve earned your space buddy You’ve done your time How come you’ve got no Peace of mind
You can’t miss that freezin’ rain You’d have to be insane To head back north And go through all that again
Stage 9 - On top of the world
On Top of the World
This stage is all about “adventure” Not a difficult riding day in terms of distance, but you will need your descending skills to get you home. We leave the Free State and transit across the Caledon River and traverse the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. Our drop off point Black Mountain 225km into the heart of Lesotho. We will only marvel at the road builders who made it possible. The air is really thin up here . We start at a height of 3254 metres (That’s about 10700 feet !!!!!) The descent off Black Mountain is like a downhill ski jump as we barrel our way to the border post at the top of Sani Pass. (DON’T FORGET YOUR PASSPORT) . Sani pass is iconic , but neglected, so the first 3 kilometres or so in the switchbacks it is very tricky with lots of rocks and not a clear track to follow. Even the vehicles will need to be cautious. After that it’s a bumpy but fast , through the border and onto towards Himeville. We cut a big loop through the Himeville valley and finish at Karmichael farm a delightful outpost in the heart of Natal. Our stage name and our song for the day “ On top of the world “ by Tim McMorris reflects the profile of the stage and what hopefully are our feelings that day.
I’m on top of the world, and now I’m livin’ And the good just gets better, keeps on givin’ Not even close to the end, it’s just beginnin’ Life is getting lighter While the days are getting brighter, yeah
And it’s all good, I won’t even worry anymore Took all my cares, took them, kicked them all, out the door Go on and try it, come on and tell me what you’re waiting for Move and keep on going, till’ your life is overflowing, yeah
Stage 10 - Hella Hella (sponored by Travel Dynamix)
In all the Grand Cycling Tours there is always one stage that stands out above all the others, one that excites, one that instill’s fear and one that demands respect. They call it the signature or queen stage.
Stage 10 has been set up to really test the endurance of the riders, those who have not quite done the training or who have gone too hard in the first week will need to summon on all their resources to finish this stage. If you are rider who is trying to finish the entire event this is the day you may come unstuck. The prize for completing the stage though is that you will be almost home and dry as the last two stages are relatively short. We have a short transit away from Himeville and you are dropped at the edge of the forest road that leads into the Creighton Valley . It is a fast 23 km descent into Creighton through rural Natal. We then pick up the same road as the stage through Creighton from 2018 and climb out of the valley towards Mackenzie farm . it’s a 9km climb with an elevation gain of 417 metres , 4.6% gradient overall , but the first section is quite steep. We then start our descent into Hella Hella and the Umko bridge.
No stopping at the bridge this time though , a tough 11 km ascent to the Richmond road awaits 675 metres of elevation gain – average gradient 6.1%. Onto tar now, through Richmond and some farm roads as we look for a way into the Isingizi estate . The climbing does not end here as there is a little sting in the tail –a 9 km ascent at around 15km to go , not big gradient around 3,2% , but by this time the legs will be cooked. The reward will be two nights at the remote Isingizi lodge , a late start to stage 11 and even a masseur or two if you want. With a signature stage we need a signature song – and that is our Trans Africa theme song Oceans by Hillsong United. We have had this song as our theme since 2014.
The song is all about being called upon by God to step forward and having faith to call on his name when you need him. Today you may well need to call on him as you descend into Hell (Hella Hella)
“……..Your sovereign hand Will be my guide Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me You’ve never failed and You won’t start now So I will call upon Your name And keep my eyes above the waves When oceans rise………….”
Stage 11 - Ground Hornbill
A Lie in !!!
After the efforts of the past 10 stages , especially stage 9 into Isingizi , we have a chance for a lie in and a regroup before the last two days. We are at Isingizi lodge (Zulu for Ground Hornbill) for the last two nights . A more apt stage name might be Ground Hog day (if you ever saw the movie ) with the mantra of “…Ride,eat,sleep , repeat ….”
A leisurely wake up, breakfast and then 60km of fun single track around the Illovo Eston area using some of the Illovo MTB race route. No support vehicles needed today so the support team will have a day off with a massage at the hotel . Family and friends will start arriving for the last night festivities and can cheer you in from the days ride.
We don’t have a garmin track for this stage yet as we need to go a do a recce trip and plot the route.
So all in all it should be a beautiful day riding around the Natal countryside in the cool of winter.
So what better song to ride with than Beautiful day by U2 – one of our FRTA favourites.
“………….It’s a beautiful day – don’t let it get away ………….”
Stage 12 - African Dream
After two nights at Isingizi lodge it is time to climb on our bikes for one last time and make our way to Ingane Yami for a truly African village welcome. We will have said our personal goodbyes to our fellow adventurers the night before and now it is time to ride some familiar routes home. Only 63km this year , making for a more relaxed last day – time to think about the journey and the experiences you have encountered. We hope that the event will have exceeded all your expectations and that when the pain fades you will have great memories of our beautiful country and that you will have made some lasting friendships.
The cause for which you have ridden – Ingane Yami children’s village will have been truly blessed by your efforts . The village was a dream inspired by God – an African dream. I hope Johnny Clegg’s song African dream will last in your music memory.
But in my African Dream, you touched my face raised up my children and gave them grace in my African Dream you wiped away my tears and whispered the promise of a thousand years
Children with eyes like souls ready to fly looking at me — for some kind of sacred sign who will teach the young, the names of the ancient ones who will tell them from whence they come I have no answer, don’t even have a prayer All I can do is close my eyes and hope that you will be there.