Cycling for Rangers – The First Few Days

Last week we introduced you to the Cycling for Rangers team as they began their 8000km ride across southern Africa. The guys have been good enough to provide us an update on their first week of this grueling adventure.

*****

For 6 months it’s been impossible to visualise what the first few days of this trip would be like. They’ve been the longest, shortest, hardest, funnest and most entertaining few days of my life.

Day 1

The journey started on the R555. A busy tarmacked one lane artery flowing into the East of South Africa. We quickly discovered it wasn’t the ideal place to be cycling based on the fact that it’s a major trucking route to the heavy industry of Steelpoort, and quarries of the surrounding area.

The alternative was to take the long route, 50km of dirt track, sheer rock and potholes.  Quite lively riding!

At no stage were things livelier than our first interaction with the locals on this unnamed dirt track. Wadi and Charlie had plowed on ahead while Theo and I were sorting out a minor mechanical issue with my bike.

The boys up ahead came across a group of 4 or 5 men brandishing some fairly sinister looking machetes. Charlie’s natural reaction was to offer them a cigarette only to hear a barking order from Wadi behind him saying ‘NO! Don’t do that!’ Charlie quickly withdrew his offer by pointing back to us and saying ‘those guys back there have the cigarettes… SORRY!’ and scooting past them on his bike.

With my bike in check, Theo and I brought up the rear and cycled past the men, who were giving us some pretty vicious looks. Everything was fine but lesson learnt: don’t offer cigarettes to strangers brandishing machetes and then withdraw the offer… not the best idea.

By 6pm we’d covered 50km of our target 70km. The light fades extremely quickly so we had about 30 minutes to find somewhere suitable to sleep. We spotted a small farmhouse down a narrow dirt track and decided that was the best option. We came to this tiny outhouse where a delightful man called ‘Flox’ lived, who looked after the property on behalf of the owner. Despite an English-Afrikaans language barrier Flox understood our needs and kindly called up the owner for us. We set up camp and slept well. Massive result.

Day 2

Day 2 began with some very tough, steep climbs on dirt tracks, until we rejoined tarmacked roads at midday. We stopped off for lunch at a petrol station where an Afrikaans guy called Rudolph rolled down his window and beckoned us over. He said he’d seen us the day before and ‘was rooting’ for us. He also insisted that to go any further along our route wasn’t safe in that ‘only black people live beyond this point.’ He even wrote out an alternative route for us all the way up to Balule Nature Reserve. This was quite a shocking thing to hear, so we decided to seek a second opinion. Two motorcyclists pulled in and we beckoned them over. They’d just come from the general direction we were headed and reiterated a danger warning but for different reasons. This time it was for big trucks and lorries.

With two opinions of varying political persuasions and logic we decided to divert the route once again.

What they failed to mention were not only the climbs, but the fully fledged mountain pass we’d have to contend with on day 3!

Anyway, by the end of day 2 we got to our destination at about 6pm. We headed straight for the only guesthouse in town, to find that it’s closed on Sundays. Just as we were about to head on into the bush and find somewhere to camp, Charlie halted a white jeep to ask if there was anywhere they could recommend. Their warm reaction of ‘come stay at ours!’ meant that 15 minutes later we were each given our own room with a much appreciated bed and shower (despite being in a half fallen down shack).

Day 3

Day 3 was absolutely brutal but it felt like the trip had really got going for the first time.

We spent 9 hours on our bikes and covered 70km. I lost count of the number of climbs but we had 1000m of up and down and reached a peak height of 2254m above sea level.

Feeling our legs is a distant memory of times gone by but the moral in the group is sky high. With a descent of 20 km and our first cooked meal for some time I can honestly say that we’re all getting into the groove.

What we’ve learnt over the last few days:

  • Our bikes and kit weigh more than the moon (50kg)

  • Theo is a machine

  • Water tends to be quite important…. Meaning that Wadi will happily drink water from a mountain stream!

  • There’s a lack of trust that runs on racial lines in South African but the people white or black aren’t as scary as I thought they’d be. If you engage, say hello, smile and be as open as possible then people respond to that… within reason,

  • ‘The route’ – is a nice idea that we planned pre departure but in practice it changes day to day with local knowledge. For a trip of 4 months long, having a chat with a few locals at the petrol station tends to be a better way of planning your route then looking on Google maps.

  • We’re pretty self-sustainable with our cooking stoves using petrol and solar panels all we need are the legs to keep churning out those km.

  • London is very flat and Africa is not….

  • We need to start heading North! At this rate we’ll miss Ballule Nature Reserve and find ourselves on the beach in Mozambique! As much beach time is great it might be quite a different trip.

  • It’s nice not to be on my phone the whole time.

  • The days are so long! It feels like I’ve been here for months.

  • No one understands what we’re doing!

  • Living off chocolate is not sustainable.

  • This is epic but insane in equal measure.

*****

An incredible first few days for the lads! Don’t forget to give them a follow on twitter @Cycling4Rangers and to donate here.

Want to read about other adventurers Polaris are supporting? Here’s our introduction to R&J Exploits who are riding across Europe on Bromptons!