Northern Farms Surprise

My weekly riding habit during Winter 2014 by chance seemed to have evolved into a pattern of Sunday Bike Parks. There are now so many in Gauteng I fear I may not get to them all before Spring. I haven’t been to Northern Farms for a while and I have always enjoyed the routes, so it was time again.

The routes are really well marked for the various distances and I had no problem finding my way. I decided to do the full Black route, every inch of it. I really enjoyed how they have made little technical detours in between the other riding, nice little challenges in between fast flowing single track. 50km of single track, if I had more time I would have gone round again. What a lovely surprise to have so much fun when I expected a mundane ride on the old style routes. Kudos to the team! Off course a highlight is always the post-ride recovery meal, bike wash facilities and finding your car where you had left it.

I thought that by starting early I wouldn’t see all that many riders out there. It’s relevant you see as I have issues, the kind that turn any rider in front of me into a target that I have to chase, like a dog does a car. It’s difficult to explain or understand, it’s just how it is. I don’t catch many but it’s never stopped me chasing. Us kids! The relevance here is that I chased down the first 2 or 3 riders I saw and patted myself on the proverbial back, thinking that’s it, now I’ll be alone and quietly ride on my own, enjoying myself. To my surprise Northern Farms had become so popular that a fresh “target” was presented around every corner and two hours later, I was still chasing targets. What fun this turned out to be. My compliments to the team for crafting so much great riding from a stunning piece of land. I can’t wait to get back … and use the excuse of chasing targets to ramp up the fun-o-meter.

Northern Farms scores high in my book. Strongly recommended.

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Northern Farms Full Black Loop

 

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The Power of the 20km Ride

Our Pretoria East MTB Facebook Group has over the past year or so steadily grown to around 500 members. It had become a forum for people to share ride plans and make new friends. It has worked quite well although the rides were mostly of slightly longer distance around the 50-80km mark. At best we had about 10 riders, sometimes 2. The intention had always been to create a platform where rides could be shared for all categories of riders and all needs.

Then recently a lady posted that she was looking for others willing to ride with her as she was just getting back on the bike and wanted to ride 20km. Faster than you could say “flash” there were many responses and within a week we did our first 20km ride with a group of 28 riders! The group loved the ride and on request we have scheduled more. For our next 2 rides we have 25 confirmed riders each. We now have experienced riders joining the group for their 20km ride to help with sweeping and backup duties and then going off to ride longer distance.

The 20km ride has for some odd reason always been a kind of break through distance. It’s longer than the teens and far enough to feel like a proper goal. Riders starting out for the first time and also those restarting after a lay-off, wanting to do only 20km, often struggle to find groups willing to go “short”. Groups form for longer rides, they go fast, they are for the hard core, or so we think. The Facebook group has grown by over 50 members in the past week because of interest in the 20km rides. The 20km ride seems to be a great way to attract riders back onto their bikes and therein lies the power, ie creating riding opportunities for everyone at all distances. Now the challenge is going to be to make these rides fun and interesting enough to keep the interest going. We have plans to do skills clinics during the rides, show how to cross a rut and how to pick up a bike. Maybe some technical bike knowledge demo’s afterwards, etc.

I have often felt that there is a bit of the good old mountain biking spirit missing from group rides, ie we ride at the pace of the slowest, the distance and time of the ride doesn’t matter, how much fun we had matters, looking out for entry level riders and bringing them into the sport with the value system that created the sport in the first place.

I am excited about what I am seeing even thought its still early days, let’s hope this continues and keeps going. Long live the 20km ride!

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Ride to Dullstroom. Going beyond 300.

The plan. In 2013 a couple of us twice did 200km+ mountain bike rides, just to see if we could. We could. So what next? 250 did not seem a significant enough stretch beyond 200 so it would have to be a 300 then. We wanted a destination so there was a carrot at the end and we intended to have support vehicles. Dullstroom has Harries Pancakes and just sounded like a good target to aim for.

The ride. After a few weeks of planning 5 of us (Carl, Alwyn, Bertus, Brian, Monique) eventually set off from Pretoria East on Friday, 8 August 2014 after work, destination Dullstroom. The first 50km was spent breaking the shackles of the city. Just past Bapsfontein, along the railway line, someone shouted “TRAIN” as we could see an approaching light stalking us and slowly but surely creeping closer. Quite an experience to have a 100+ car train come past for a few minutes as we cruised in the dark alongside its snaking and noisy body, the next minute it was gone and the silence of the night settled in.

The night.We had started after work so it wasn’t long before darkness approached, 12 hours of darkness, 12 hours of low temperatures, 12 hours where the unknown lurks just beyond the reach of your light beam. Fortunately we had come prepared so we were not afraid. There were a few of us so we could share lighting duties, we had a full moon and a cloudless sky and then I had my Extremelights Extreme1200 MKII handlebar light. I had used this light for a few months leading up to the ride during frequent night rides at Modderfontein Bike Park and also on the very rough roads during Race to Rhodes. It had become a trustworthy piece of equipment and it again did not disappoint. It lasted through the night on dim setting with the odd bright needed on rough stretches, stretching the light perimeter far enough to keep the monsters at a safe distance. We cruised quiet district roads through the night as we edged past Bronkhorstspruit, Ekandustria, Meulstroom en route to Loskopdam. A special moment was riding under a full moon with our bike lights turned off, simply using ambient light to see our way in the night with an ever present moon shadow as companion. We did this often, to this dismay of our support crew who thought we had gone missing. I’ve always enjoyed night riding and somehow the hours flew past peacefully and quietly. The plan was to ride about 200km through the night and it worked out pretty well. We had a few sleep monsters pay us a visit but there were no incidents and everyone managed to stay upright.

Sunrise. By 6am we were grinding up the Northern boundary of Loskopdam when the Eastern horizon started changing colour and we felt a sense of achievement for having ridden non-stop through the night and reached the 200km mark. Vanessa joined the support crew on Saturday morning and had brought along servings of Steers King Bacon burgers, needless to say these did not last long.

Sting in the tail. The last 100km was a slog to say the least. It was great to know and feel that every kilometre we covered was taking us into territory we had not been in before. Somehow our bodies held up, we felt good and reality set in as we grew increasingly tired under an every warming sun. We knew the last 30km was going to be uphill onto the Dullstroom escarpment and by midday the end was in sight but none of us expected the climbs to be relentless with worn out gravel roads and the end seemed rather distant at times. At around 3pm on Saturday afternoon we rode into Dullstroom and up the main road like it was our Champs Elysees. 310km in 22 elapsed hours. Mission accomplished! Two of us had made it all the way and passed 300km and everyone else had gone further than before.

Thank you support team. Last and most importantly, we had a support crew who followed us all the way from about the 60km mark. Ronel, Heidemari, Aubrette, Matthew and Vanessa. These 5 people are the heroes of this trip to us riders. They stuck with us all the way, carrying valuable nutrition and hydration, making coffee and encouraging us. They shivered in the cold of night, got as tired as us and when necessary shielded us from traffic with their vehicles. I cannot begin to express how we appreciate their efforts. The dreams and adventures we embark on are ours, they are often selfish and yet our supporters and families are unwavering in their support of our causes. It was therefore very special that this time they had the opportunity to be an integral part of our adventure.

Thank you to my riding buddies and our support team. We had a dream, we made a plan and we walked away with everlasting memories. This one was legend!

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