Eighty degrees of irritation … Since Kob Inn things had been going downhill at formula one home straight pace!
We left the Kob in a light drizzle, lunch pack in hand, just a few minutes after Wesley and Mike. These guys were hard core, no nonsense, mountain bikers riding the Imana Wild Ride course unassisted. They’d arrived the day before from Morgan Bay with a suntan to prove the long slogs they’d endured over the beaches at 29 degrees heat. They were grateful for the misty rain. ‘At least it’s cooler,’ they said.
Watching them cycle out at the gate we felt a bit pansie’ish, we have to admit. But we couldn’t have accepted their offer to ride along even if we would’ve been able to stay upright on their route. You see, we still had the back-up vehicle that could not, by any means, follow the path along the coast. We had to take the gravel roads as close as possible to the coast instead. But that would still mean a 70 plus kilometre day for us.
With the state of the Transkei gravel roads we’d already decided to run rather than ride our bicycles. So that was just what we did … when the rain let up a bit, of course. We simply had to venture out into the regular spit and spot to work off some of the food. If we’d have stayed any longer, we surely would’ve rolled out there like beach balls. They really feed you well. Some go to Kob Inn to fish, others to relax, but we go to eat! And then they were kind enough to pack us lunch of two ciabatta rolls with mustard mayo, lettuce, ham and cheese … oh, and we got an energy bar and a juice box! We had to run to make space for that after the breakfast we’d had before leaving.
We ran stints of 20 minutes each before swopping. On the kind of roads we found ourselves on, we couldn’t make very much more than about 3km in 20 minutes. This kept going for a good half of the day. We kept going even though it started to rain a bit harder every now and again. We figured, we were already wet with sweat so what was a few more raindrops going to do?
After avoiding umpteen dogs and cows by hastily hopping into Hamilton and doing a little drive by before getting back out there again, we decided to stop for lunch. Breakfast was long gone and after the couple of near slips we’d had in the gloopy mud, we reckoned we deserved the break.
After lunch we made one last push for the 30km mark and called it a day at 31.1km. In any case, it had started to rain again.
As we drove on the rain came down harder and harder, until it was really a set in downpour. The torrent began to turn the roads to muddy bogs. The ground turned into a type of clay that a potter would be thrilled to work with. It was slick and soft and thick as porridge in places. The myriad potholes were now filled with muddy brown water and there was no way to tell just how deep they really were. The dongas and ditches that had obviously been formed by previous rains how ran brown, carrying away even more topsoil to expose the rocks and stones below. At least the rock gave a bit of traction because the mud just served to create an ice rink for vehicles.
We slid and cursed and yelled and rolled, twisted and turned through the gunk, braving one axel twister after another, just trying to keep from getting stuck or ending up slewing across the road and landing in a ditch!
The pass down to the Mbashe River was the worst though. The board did warn of a dangerous pass for 14km but we had no idea just how dangerous it could be in the wet. The bakkie did a couple of heart stopping slides toward the precipice but low range and an engaged diff lock got us out safely.
We hunkered down and braced for impact as we hit one cess pool after another. The hilux had all the goodies engaged and we were crawling at a pace that would rival a decrepit, arthritic snail. Suzann, with a rictus grin of fear, hung onto the steering wheel while Lynsey took the body blows the road dealt out while gripping the passenger seat, white-knuckled.
Some places the vehicle just would not be controlled and it took a track, just like sand driving, making you want to lose control of your mind as well. Sliding again, Suzann sat hunched forward, nose to the dash, to see through the mist and the rain, while Lynsey loudly encouraged the Hilux with, ‘go Hamilton, go!’ Not that that would’ve helped very much, in hindsight, but it made her feel better then.
The adrenaline was pumping because we had to make the gate at Cwebe Nature Reserve. The gate closed at 6pm and the arrival time on the GPS was creeping ever closer to 18:00 as we just went slower and slower. Weathering frantic phone calls from our mother, we finally slid up to the gate with some minutes to spare. Then we could relax for the next 3km to our destination, or so we thought.
The road turned into nothing but a track through the coastal forest that would, under other circumstances, probably have been rather scenic. Avoiding a rather angry looking couple of bulls on a narrow muddy track peppered with holes of indeterminate depth, was rather a feat but we managed anyway. Yes, it was already in the nature reserve that we encountered the cattle. The locals seem to take no notice of the reserve and, reserve or no reserve, the cattle must eat. We just thought it unfortunate for any hikers wandering the reserve to have to come upon these animals with the beady eyes and horns to rival a Viking hat.
It was still raining but it was also getting colder and colder by the second. Finding reception in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt in 12 degree icy rain was no fun. Wet and bedraggled, we finally got directed to our seafront room. Well … it was rather like forest front. The sea was in that direction but away across a great green field littered with cow pats and various other varieties of animal excrement. It was just a wall of green out there, behind which one could hear the sea.
We kept the vehicle in 4 high as we bounced over the grass (no road, goodness knows, no road) to the ‘seafront’ room. ‘The key is in the door’ we’d been told. Just a pity that the sliding bolt and bog standard padlock came on the outside of the door. That meant you could only lock yourself out, not in … For inside there was a little bit of wood that swiveled on a nail with which to stop the door from spontaneously popping open in the middle of the night. But we were cold and we were wet and it was warm inside.
After a shower, we changed into some warm clothes and hauled out the Mac in a Sac’s. Not the first time the Mac would come out of its Sac, mind you. We tried to hasten over the grass expanse in the general direction of some coloured lights that we assumed would be the bar and dining area. We were right but we could not go hastily. Not if we didn’t want to break a leg by stepping in a hole covered in with grass. And then of course, there was the ever present paranoia over ticks. We didn’t want a repeat of last year’s episode of tick bite fever that almost put paid to our trip. This time getting a fever would be disastrous since anything slightly warm is accused of having covid-19. Well, that would mean that the next morning’s breakfast scrambled eggs were in absolutely no danger at all.
But our day had not been the only bad one, Wesley and Mike had slogged out a 7 hour ride in the rain, having to push their bikes for about 5 – 7 kilometers, they reckoned. They only had one set of ‘day clothes’ so to speak, stuffed in their hydration packs and they were shorts! Hence we found these guys huddled under blankets on the couch waiting for the dining room to open for supper.
Supper was somewhat of an abysmal affair but we were all tired, and it was till raining … We said goodbye to the guys since they were scheduled to leave at 4:30 the next morning to catch low tide for the river crossings to Coffee Bay. We were also supposed to be heading in that direction but were warned of impassible roads. In fact, no-one was quite sure if we would be able to get out of the reserve in the morning! But we were going to give it our best shot. There was no way we were getting stuck in the rain. And after an night spent twisted up like a pretzel in the car, we were definitely going to get out … we just had to.
In the car? Yes, the tick paranoia was warranted as we found two, just in the pillow cases. Then of course, the giant cockroach that Lynsey proceeded to stomp on was the last straw. Suzann was just screaming, ‘my bag is open, my bag is open’ not wanting the awful insect to scurry into her clothes bag in it’s desperate attempt at getting away from Lynsey’s shoe. With the roof dripping on the bed making a yellow mark like an un-potty trained toddler, we decided, enough was enough. The droppings on the chair had made us suspicious, but the rest took it a step too far for our sensibilities. There was no telling what might fall from the badly thatched roof at night. We’ve seen thatching done with grass before, in Malawi, but the roof we stared up at that night was something else. It looked as if it had been thatched with grass from which the seed pods had not been removed. No wonder it had sprung a leak. So it was the car for us. One in the front, the other in the back, swopping halfway through the night. We’d not get much sleep that night, least of all with the nearby lighthouse flashing it’s beam at us like a disco strobe light.
The following morning brought no relief, not from the rain at least. Having slept in our clothes all we had to do was settle our bill and wolf down our stone cold eggs before setting out for another day of the grand slalom.
The achingly slow pace was not the problem as such, but it gave the little ‘tsotsi’s in the making’ ample time to run up behind the vehicle and slash the holding straps off the bicycles in an attempt to snatch them off the back without us noticing. The little bugger just hadn’t taken account of the chain that locked the bikes to the stand so when the straps were off and he tried to grab the bike, it wouldn’t come.
As we saw a wheel drop in the side mirror, Suzann came to a dead stop. But by the time we’d got out the vehicle, the boy of only about 10 years, was already running down a steep single track into the valley. We yelled after him but it didn’t help. Nobody even came out of the nearby houses to see what all the commotion was about.
Luckily for us we had packed the extra straps that we’d had to buy the last time a Transkei tsotsi had tried to steal our bikes. But it cost us get rained sopping wet, and the vehicle was wet inside, and everything was just soaking … to try to get the straps and tie the bike back on. It didn’t help that the stand had already broken twice and was held by duct tape and grace. Neither did the big grin of a passer-by who seemed to think it extremely funny that somebody tried to steal our bikes. What kind of a person finds glee in another’s misfortune? What kind of a person thinks stealing is even remotely funny? Who is teaching that little guy that stealing is OK? What gives him the right to take what doesn’t belong to him? That kind of blatant entitlement is what is wrong with South Africa! We despair for the next generation, we really do, growing up with a skewed set of values and no apparent morals either!
But that was it, the last straw! We both just lost it! The journey had started as one of hope. It was meant to bring the Word of God to people like these folks in the rural backwaters. We’d been killing ourselves for over a month cycling again constant wind, running hideous gravel roads, getting wet, getting cold, being inconvenienced, not sleeping, not even eating properly some days, and for what? To have a few people chat to us and tell us that what we’re doing is amazing. That’s great folks but we’re not doing this to look amazing, we need donations to help others.
So we took our sodden selves back to the tar road, the N2, and summarily booked in at the Garden Court Hotel in Mthatha. There we could at least get one of the austere, covid stripped rooms to get a bit of sleep. We were hoping for a burger supper but the restaurant had removed their entire menu and we were presented with a photocopied piece of paper on which four choices, none of which was a burger, were given us. That was also after having to enquire at the bar if the restaurant was indeed open as most people were eating in their rooms. Trolleys of tightly cling wrapped plates were being dragged down corridors to petrified guests hiding behind masks in their overly sanitized rooms (the place practically smelled of embalming fluid). The poor waitress, slash bar lady, was run off her feet and she shooed us out of the restaurant by summarily presenting us with the bill, never mind if we wanted to order something else. So we left. At least their beds were comfy. At least they still had beds …