Is Grahamstown on the moon? What else could one think when we saw all that uphill! The distance was not impressive but the terrain was. What was meant to be a ‘little turn of the pedals’ day turned into a nightmare of vertical cranking. We had so wanted to feel the warmth of the sun of late and we sure got what we wanted. The sun baked down out of a clear blue sky and there we were, at it’s blazing mercy, crawling along, up yet another hill that never seemed to end. The ever present breeze had also decided to take the day off and this did not bode well for a cyclist, dressed in black lycra, creeping along the road at the pace of an arthritic snail. But we soldiered on, legs screaming, breathing like hippos and dripping with sweat.
Finally, after Suzann had been going uphill for nearly 20km (including pedaling up a pass) it was time to call it quits. But every bit of relative flat, straight road was devoid of a decent verge to pull off on. That meant that she simply had to keep pedaling. Eventually she got an opportunity to get off the road safely, but not before a distraught Lynsey proceeded to pull out behind her and drive up alongside the bike to yell, ‘I think you should stop now, you’re going to kill yourself!’ Luckily she did stop when she did because the next hill (and it was one vicious thing) came upon us almost immediately. After we’d loaded the bikes, and a very wet Suzann, we’d drive round the next bend and see Grahamstown. Apparently it’s not on the moon then …
Anyway, we had to turn back to Port Alfred since our tent was still at Medolino. We were going to stay another night. But before we went all the way back, we stopped in Bathurst and went to take a look at the toposcope. This structure was built on the place where the 1820 settlers were allocated their farms. All around the central beacon there are plaques on which the family names are written, together with the county they came from and the ship that brought them to Africa. Right at the top of each of these plaques is the distance, in miles, they had to travel to their bit of land.
From the top of the hill we could see right to Port Alfred …
and, of course, we saw the world’s biggest pineapple too. That large, yellow structure with it’s spikey, green ‘fro’ we’d drive passed on our way out of the little town itself.
The wind had come up again and was making it rather unpleasant so a quick lunch on the stoep of the Pig and Whistle in Bathurst was off the cards.
Anyway, we had to be back and bathed so we didn’t smell like rancid socks when we met a couple from Anita’s church who were going to put us in contact with a local pastor in Lusikisiki where Bibles can make a huge difference. That was more important than a windswept pub lunch in sweat encrusted lycra. And there was cake at Anita’s, so who could say no to that. In fact, we ended up so full of chocolate cake that we could hardly fit supper in. Nothing like going to bed on sugar high. But we’d have to leave Anita’s bolt hole in the morning, even though we didn’t want to.
We drove to Grahamstown, marveling about what we’d done the day before. But soon the self-congratulations would end when we hit the Ecca Pass just outside of town. By then we had the bikes on the road again and Lynsey took the pass. It wasn’t more than right since Suzann had done such a sterling job of a pass the previous day. It turned out to be long, but not too steep and the wind wasn’t a factor so things started off well.
Swopping every 20km, we ended up about 30km or so outside of Fort Beaufort by lunchtime. We pulled off at a convenient picnic spot for a Provita and cheese wedge. Unfortunately that specific spot had no shady tree and the sun was blazing.
The Eastern Cape has been the province of records. We had the longest cycling day of 147.1km, followed by the coldest night at Gamtoos Ferry and then the shortest cycling day of a mere 10 or so kilometres when the wind stopped us on the way to Port Alfred. The latest addition to that list was then, of course, the hottest cycling day where we hit 35 degrees. That was one degree higher than our agreed cut-off, and so it was that we stopped about 5km shy of Fort Beaufort.
Once in town we realized that, even if the heat had not stopped us, the roadworks would definitely have put an end to our cycling day. There was construction work being done on the road between Fort Beaufort and Alice.
Just after passing the Fort Hare University campus in Alice, we turned into the mountains and headed for Hogsback. As Hamilton the Hilux swept through the bends of the pass up the mountain to the little village in the clouds, we were very grateful that we’d decided not to attempt to cycle.
We pulled in at the Swallowtail campsite far earlier than expected, and clearly far earlier than another couple who had passed us on the road in a huge overland truck, had expected as well. Apparently, they had been so concerned about us they were going to take their motorbike and come look for us if we hadn’t arrived by 6pm. They knew we were headed for Hogsback because they’d pulled up alongside the support vehicle and we’d yelled out greetings and such. Their relief was apparent, and so it would be that we got chatting and they invited us to a rib braai for supper the following evening. Thank goodness for that since it started bucketing down and we’d have gone to bed with a packet of chips if it weren’t for them … and, of course, the comfortable traveler’s lounge at Swallowtail.
But before our braai, we’d swing by the little chapel of St. Patricks on the Hill and stroll along their ‘prayer walk’ on the property.
That was much more relaxing than the rushed run we had down to the ‘big tree’. It was only 1.5km or so down but the weather had started to change and while we were still taking pictures of the tree the thunder began to rumble.
We didn’t want to rain wet so we proceeded to run up the path (and it was steep) in our jeans! When we finally got to the top, we could’ve just as well have let the rain wet us, because we were wet with sweat from the mugginess in the forest.
We just made it back to camp before the rain started but by then we were under the shower. Then we just had a lot of sweat drenched clothes that were never going to dry. We had to pack them the next morning, just as wet, and hope they didn’t go sour before we could get them out into the sunshine again.
The sun never did shine again in Hogsback, and we’d pack a sodden tent. Thank goodness the rain let up a little, just so that we could pack, before coming down again. We said our goodbyes to the friendly overlanders and ‘Goliat’, their truck, and headed out on a filthy gravel road in the direction of Cathcart. We were dressed in cycling gear but we weren’t cycling … not in the rain, and not on such an abysmal road …
By the time we got to the tar road and Cathcart though, it had stopped raining. We decided to try and cycle the somewhat 20km left for the day to the Old Thomas River Station where we were scheduled to stay. A quick stop to offload the bikes led to two Bibles finding themselves a new home. Monica and her daughter Vuyokazi passed by on their way to town and spontaneously began to chat. Telling them of our endeavours led to much encouragement and such gratitude when they received their Bibles.
It felt so good to give out Bibles again that we simply glided over the road down to Thomas River. But that was as far as we’d go ‘gliding’ that day. Old Thomas River turned out a bust. We arrived to a closed restaurant and every other building as well. The door had a sign on ‘No mask, no entry’ and a Christmas tree was in the window but everything was dark and the place was utterly abandoned. We called, we hooted, we walked around the entire place, but no-one came out. There was a dog barking and washing on a line and we thought we heard voices but when we knocked and called out no-one responded. There was thus nothing for it but to up sticks and head for our next destination, Morgan Bay.
By the late hour of 2pm or so, we weren’t even going to attempt to do some cycling, the distance was just too far and we still had to put up a wet tent and try to gets things dry when we got to Morgan Bay. So we drove …
But the closer we got to the coast the more ominous the weather became and after a bit of a mix-up at check-in with the hotel, we ended up shacking up in a thunderstorm. There was no chance of getting our wet things dry. We’d have to make do with a washing line strung up in the tent from which all the wet clothes were suspended.
The next day would yield some sun in the morning but the sky turned grey and it began to rain again. At least the booking mix-up could be sorted out and, finding the email we’d sent, reception sorted us out quickly. Somehow the booking had not been entered on the system up at the hotel to which the campsite belongs. But everyone was very friendly and helpful and we ended up with an amazing campsite right on the lagoon with a stunning sea view. Just a pity for the grey skies the afternoon.
At least we could get some diesel and a few groceries at the SaveMore in Kei Mouth that morning, and be able to cook and have light since the electricity (that had been off since the previous day) had miraculously come back on. After all that drama it was another record, the most tired of doing the least cycling ….