Great African Divide Ride: Day 20 : Saturday 15th October

Sterkfontein Dam to Wagendrift, near Estcourt

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Distance: 66kms
Altitude gain: 520m
Altitude loss: 1120m …NOTE the difference!
Difficulty: All tar, and apart from the up bits, an absolute pleasure.
Temp: 29
Max heart rate: 157
Average ride speed: 16.9

Riding out of Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve in the direction of Bergville involves a bit of a hill – I knew this because I had driven the R74 before. In fact, I had driven along the R74 quite a few times over the years, and my memory of the area was that there was a plateau around the Sterkfontein Dam, flattish, and then a small country hotel and shop at the crest of the hill, followed by an amazing 15km descent. It had been a dream of mine for many years to ride down this incredible hill.

I got it a bit wrong. I admit that. I told Patrick and Chris that it was about 4 to 5 kms of gentle ascent to the crest, and then a stunning 15km descent. Well, the 4 to 5 kms actually stretched out to 11kms from our campsite, and involved a steep climb of 400metres. In my defense, I had always driven this section and wasn’t aware of the slope. I avoided abuse from Patrick and Chris on this part of the ride by staying well ahead of them, and I got to the country pub at the crest a good 15 minutes ahead of them. I ordered cappuccino (extra large of course), and a plate of freshly baked scones with farm cream and strawberry jam. Yum, yum, yum. When the other two arrived – panting, puffing, sweating and swearing – I could understand their anger. However, once they too were swilling coffee they calmed down. Patrick made good friends with the proprietor of the place and landed up buying jam and some kind of sweet sauce.

Then came the highlight of the day – the 15km ride down the hill. There was hardly any traffic and the tar was in very good condition. Both Patrick and I managed to get to over 60kph. There was a washaway about halfway down, but it was well-marked with warning signs, so not dangerous. You may think I have now ticked my bucket list as far as the R74 hill goes – but quite the opposite. I am now determined to do this ride (the downhill direction) at least once more. In fact, if the support vehicle had been at the bottom of the hill I would have argued strenuously to be uplifted, driven back up the hill for more cappuccino and scones, and then done the descent again … and maybe even again. Sigh … it was not to be.

We had arranged to meet up with Diana and Patch at a place called Amphitheatre Backpackers about 5kms beyond the bottom of the hill. I got there first, saw our Isuzu and went inside to see Diana and Patch.  A few minutes later Patrick came in saying, anxiously telling us that there was a problem with Chris. My heart sank as I thought it meant that Chris had taken a tumble. But luckily that wasn’t the case. Chris was so focused on the road, that he had not seen the sign to Amphitheatre Backpackers. Patrick, 50 metres behind at that stage, had screamed out for him to stop, but when you’re riding at 35kph plus, it’s not easy to hear. So, I jumped into the Isuzu and gave chase – well as fast as one can dragging a one tonne trailer. Chris had managed to find the first hill of note after the amazing 15km descent, and had already ridden the best part of 3kms up a long slope before I caught up with him. I’ve seen Chris look happier a few times!

Diana persuaded us to eat lunch at the backpackers – and what a good decision it was. Great hamburgers. Crap service – but great hamburgers. Thank you, Diana.

After lunch we pushed quite hard and got to Bergville. From there we uplifted to Wagendrift, our Nature Reserve campsite for the night. This is another nature reserve with camping and picnic facilities. We did have a minor panic on arrival at the designated camping site because the ablution block was completely locked up. So we drove back to the entrance gate (over a kilometre away), picked up the security guard, and he managed to find “the man with the key”. Whew! Patch quotes from a book she read many moons back, about travelling in Africa. The book is titled “The man with the key has gone to lunch”. Anyone who was travelled extensively in Africa will relate to this immediately with a wry smile.

Yet another lovely water-fronted camping spot. Lucky us.

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