Through the Karoo! (Brits to Graaff Reinet 5-19 May)

From Kokoriba reserve to Brits 30km
Pretoria 35km (met Louise outside who drove me the rest of the way)
Outskirts of Joburg 45km (also collected on the outskirts)
Parys 147km
Kroonstad 94km
Winburg 111km
Bloemfontein 123km
Springfontein 60km (plus 90km in a 4×4)
Oviston 101km
Steynsburg 100km
Middleburg 63km
Graaff Reinet 93km


20,785km so far

*You can see all my photos in my South Africa album at my Facebook page here

It’s the middle of May and South Africa is now in Winter.

I spent a few days in Pretoria with my new friend Louise who looked after me and organised my life so well that I am now struggling without her. Even though there was an election and a public holiday, we managed to find a great bike shop called “Bruce’s” who did an amazing job on my rear axle.
And so I headed off happily to Jo’Burg to get even more free hospitality.

After saying goodbye to my generous hosts Mandy and Brad, I headed into the Karoo, the South African outback. The first part was the free state, down to Bloemfontein and then into the Eastern Cape. At one time the only way to cross this area was by horse or Ox, and while riding Silver I appreciated just how brave those men and women must have been, with hundreds of kilometers of grassy land without a place to stop for food or water. I was experiencing something very similar!

It is very cold in the morning now so an early start has been difficult and cycling until late is also tough because as soon as the sun goes down it gets freezing. Not to mention the dangers of cycling in the dark. It’s constantly hilly which is ok but added to a terrific headwind I have been pushed back to an average speed of just 15km per hour.

Between Jo’burg and Bloemfontein, it’s all farmland and the towns are small and have an antiquated atmosphere.

From Johannesburg I stayed on the N14/R28 to avoid the townships. It was long and boring but the big lane by the side of the road meant I could keep a lot of distance between myself and the passing trucks. It was a long day and hillier than I had expected, especially coming into Krugersdorp. I skirted around the edges of Soweto and continued through Randfontein (which wasn’t very nice, it reminded me of Croydon). Passing Westonaria, I turned West towards Fochville, which looks like a very modern estate, and onto Parys where I arrived in the dark. The town sits on a river and it must be a very pleasant place in the Summer but it was bitterly cold and I was grateful to be in the warm at the Parys Adventure lodge for a very reasonable price. The owners, Michelle and Bertran were extremely nice people, and they even sponsored me an amount far greater than the cost of my stay.

The next day was an unremarkable ride to the town of Kroonstad where I spent a night at the rather bizarre Hacienda hotel. It is a 60s building but its decor is designed to make it seem like you are on the titanic. The staff were nice though and I learnt my first words in Sutu (dumela- hello, lekai- how are you, gdeng- fine)

Then onto the N1 where Ventersburg was little more than a truckstop but a burger and chips were very effective at filling a huge hole in my stomach. I arrived at Winburg which is now cut off from the national road and its guesthouses have become quiet. Which is a shame because they are really very good. The Winburg hotel is 180 rand for a backpackers room. Although it is a sleepy town now, it was the site of many battles during the boer war and was the site of a British concentration camp. The wide streets and the old Dutch church makes you imagine the horse drawn carts, with men in shirts with braces and women in long dresses and bonnets. It really does feel like you have stepped back in time.

The next day to Bloemfontein was challenging. The N1 had nowhere to stop and I ran out of food and water. As I entered the city I was glad to find a petrol station where I could buy drinks. While I searched for the El Shaddai backacker’s lodge on Ray Champion road, a guy jumped out of his car to say hello. He introduced himself as Ockie and was an adventure enthusiast and very excited about my journey. He pointed me in the right direction. He said if there was anything I needed, to call him.

I had been told by a chap in Winburg that Bloemfontein is the home of Grey’s College, the most famous rugby factory in South Africa. A visit would have been great if I was with my dad (who loves rugby even more than I do) but fatigue was hitting me and so I just wanted a good night’s sleep and to get going again. In the morning, I received a text from Ockie saying he had a relative, JP, in Springfontein where I could stay. He even drove to intercept me on the outskirts of Bloemfontein to give me some drink and snacks. He pointed me the way back to the N1 and I started pedalling again. Within a minute I had a puncture. And that was the story of the day. Puncture after puncture, and just 60km. My inner tubes were now all covered in patches and my tyres were threadbare thin. I wished I had bought new tyres but it was too late for that. I spent 2 hours by the roadside desperately trying to get a repair to work. I gave up on the idea of getting to Springfontein that night and texted JP to let him know. I had finally got a repair to hold and hoped I would at least reach Edenburg when a 4×4 pulled over in front of me and out jumped a young farmer named Matthew, who told me he had cycled Lisbon to Istanbul and asked what I was doing. I explained I was cycling the world and he insisted I get off the N1 (his father Andrew told me that the N1 is “Kak”) and onto nicer roads and stay at his farm near Steynsburg.

He offered me a lift and although I declined and started to cycle again, I realised I was being daft. I would be skipping 100km but if I followed his route I would end up covering more than that distance and accepting a lift would also mean I would be in Springfontein that night.

It was a great decision. In no time at all we were in Springfontein and as Matthew helped me unload Silver and my bags, JP’s mum Sandra welcomed me and showed me to my room. And what a beautiful room. Kuilfontein guesthouse was very very nice indeed. And the dinner was amazing. I had beers and a great meal including the best pie I have ever eaten. And I have eaten a lot of pies! The other guests were going hunting or just passing through but were all very nice people who said they would take a look at my website. And JP told me I didn’t need to pay for a thing.

I spent the rest of the night patching up inner tubes, and had just about run out of them but in the morning JP drove me to a shop where he bought me more patches. And then he went off to get his farming done and I got back on the road.

The route to Steynsburg via Bethulie was so much better than the N1. The scenery was amazing and it was topped off by the most beautiful sunset with gold and orange and pink splashed across streams of cloud above me. The front tyre had now split completely and I was using duck tape to keep the tyre together.

Matthew met me 20km before his sheep farm (between Steynsburg and Middleburg) and I was very lucky to see an Aardvark cross the road. Apparently it’s a very rare sighting!

Matthew, Andrew and Peter entertained me and fed me. Peter made us cry with laughter when he told us he had been asked by a guy in a bike shop what parts he needed and he said he thought it was “shrek”. He meant SRAM (pronounced Shram). We laughed and said well yes, it’s all Shimano or Shrek these days.

Matthew helped me put a plastic lining in my tyres and get them pumped up. I was much faster on my way to Middleburg but had to stop to patch my tyres up.

After a great nights sleep in Andrew’s country home, where their friend Nickey made sure I was looked after, I headed on to Graaff Reinet. There were a couple of mountain passes but the view as I descended in the late afternoon was spectacular.

So I’m just a week from Cape Town, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am to the fantastic Saffers who have helped me. It really has been unbelievable.

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