Great African Divide Ride Day 12 : Friday 7th October

Hekpoort to Valverde (Cradle of Humankind)

Distance: 42kms
Altitude gain: 590
Altitude loss: 310
Difficulty: Good road but a few long hills
Temp: 32
Max heart rate: Not measured
Average ride speed: 15.1


Patch had joined us the night before and so it was a reunion of sorts of the Blue Cross UK 2021. For that ride, Patch, Paul, Patrick and I had ridden from the Isle of Wight to Mount Snowden. It had taken us about 7 days. All four of us had wanted to ride the Blue Cross in Zim, but were stuck in the UK because of Covid travel restrictions.


We set off from the Weavers Roost campsite, full of joy and expectation … for the first 110 metres. Then we started the climb out of the campsite which was definitely a granny gear slope, so by the time we got to the gate we were all puffing and grunting. From there we began the 5km plus climb on the tar road, so the puffing didn’t stop. I was amazed at how well everyone rode – especially Patch and Paul. Patch had just been on an 18 hour flight, from sea level, whilst Paul never was a great hill climber. Chris and Patrick just trundled away as though it was a flat road, instead of 10 degree sections. But we all made it to the top of the hill without stopping or walking.


After cresting that initial obstacle, there was a rather splendid 6km downhill. For me, the joy of “flying” down a hill at 45 – 50kms is one of the true pleasures in life.
Some undulations later we got to the turn off to the Sterkfontein Caves in the Cradle of Humankind. This is truly a very special place on the planet. The skull of a young woman was found in the late 1930’s. Initially it was estimated that the skull was about 2 million years but subsequently that has been changed to about 3.5 million years old. Dr Robert Broom lead the search in the limestone caves and many other bone fragments were found leading to the identification of Australopithecus africanus. Amongst anthropologists there is an ongoing debate about who has found the most important humanoid links to the past, and I am certainly not qualified to say that the Leakey’s are wrong or right about the discoveries of Australopithecus afavensis in East Africa being the oldest humanoid. But for many years Raymond Dart was seriously dissed by the international (well, let’s say Western) academic community about his description of the finds at Sterkfontein.


So, the five of us were excited about the prospect of actually going down into the limestone caves, but were in for a disappointment. There were already about 200 matric students waiting for the next tour, and that was over an hour away. We chatted about hanging around and waiting for the tour, but the noise and exuberance of the 200 school kids soon persuaded us to get back on our bikes and head up to Valverde, our stopping place for the night.


On the way we stopped of at Bidon Coffee, a bike friendly place. The coffee was great and we met up with an American woman, Kathleen, who was also riding around the Cradle. She is part of a group of cyclists who will be doing Race to Rhodes. Rhodes is where we will be ending our African Divide Ride, so quite a coincidence. They are expected to arrive in Rhodes a day or two before us. Too lucky for me that they will be ahead of us and we won’t feel obliged to race with them. I would absolutely hate the thought of riding up the famous Naude’s Nek, being chased down by a bunch of real cyclists. Ant Mellon always made a point of emphasising that he and I are bicycle riders and not cyclists.


Then came the sad part of the day. We checked into Valverde, a country hotel, from which bunches of cyclists ride. More of that in the next blog. For us the sad part was the departure of Paul. He was flying out to the UK the next day, and to ease the logistical hassles of getting to the airport, he had decided it would be best to go through to Pretoria for Friday night. Paul is almost always quiet, but has a wonderful sense of humour. He is also an exceptionally sensible, intelligent and caring person and his contribution to our team was significant. The only thing I find difficult about being with Paul is that he is almost always right – and I find that quite irritating, given that it shows up all my mistakes!


After Paul had been delivered to his friends in Pretoria, the rest of us sat down to a pretty good meal of paella and tapas.
As you are aware we ride to raise money and awareness for the pensioners in Zimbabwe. Their pension is not enough to get them through a day, never mind a month. So thanks go out to Carl, one of our volunteers, who delivers food packs to pensioners on a monthly basis. Your donations do wonders for our cause, and our volunteers are instrumental in delivering to the pensioners. Thank you team and please, keep donating to this worthy cause.

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