The Eastern Cape was a challenge and a half and made us want to give up on numerous occasions but, against all odds, we will continue and we will finish, because it’s not about us. And because it’s not about us and our physical abilities or mental aberrations (as some would say) we did not, in fact, cycle one single pedal stroke from Port St Johns to Kokstad. But we did stop at the Lusikisiki Christian Church to give Ps Mwape 15 Bibles and countless ‘Starting the Journey’ booklets for his work amongst the local community.
The Wild Coast had beaten us again. The roads were in an abysmal condition and one couldn’t even appreciate the rolling green hills littered with fizzer pink houses or you would risk ending up in an erosion donga that could eat a Hilux for breakfast, never mind a rather wobbly mountain biker. It felt like we were battling through a forgotten province where the government simply didn’t want to look and truly see, as if the people aren’t even real to them … When we were slipping and sliding around on the muddy porridge roads in low range with the diff lock on in the pouring rain, we had to wonder to ourselves, ‘what was the government smoking when they thought those little motorbike ambulances were a good idea for the Eastern Cape?’ We could hardly make it through with a large 4×4. How in the world were these little things ever going to make it to a hospital, and that with the patient intact and dry?! The first donga and the poor patient would’ve gone flying!
But we’d soon start a new chapter with a new province … KZN. All that would be left … Kokstad to Kosi. We’ve decided to draw a veil over the Eastern Cape. We’d previously cycled the road from Kokstad to Underberg so we knew what we were in for. It was a quiet road through the rolling green hills. Farmhouses and dams were dotted everywhere in the distance and the cows just gave us their blank ‘cow’ stares as we cycled by. At least in KZN they were all safely behind a fence.
The day wore on and the clouds began to gather as they usually do closer the Berg in spring and summer. It would now just be a matter of, ‘can we out ride the storm?’ About 30km from Underberg (with 70km under our belt, so to speak) the angry purple sky began to light up in vast chains of lightening and we could hear the roll of thunder in the distance. Rather than risk cycling in an electric storm, we decided to pack it in for the day and simply drive to Underberg and Khotso Lodge.
We had quite the welcoming committee at Khotso since they were about to set out for their sunset horse ride when we arrived. We were invited along but declined the generous offer. The only noble steed we ride is blue, has two wheels and is called Scott. While the lot of enthusiastic backpackers stood about, chomping on the bit, waiting for the go-ahead (the storm was putting things off a bit), we began moving into our room. We’d decided to forego the tent on the basis that we’d rather not choose to be electrocuted in the middle of the night in our little metal cage with the lightening flashing all about. Yet, we were warned to wait a bit for the storm to pass on before showering. Finally the others did go out on the horses while we showered the day’s 29 degree sweat off. Fresh as daisies, after the thunderstorm, we went for a short amble down the farm road to appreciate the awesome sunset.
As we began to head back, we spied the returning equine squad. By the time we passed the tack room, the horses had all been released to pasture, no doubt glad to be rid of the saddle. Back at the backpackers we fell into conversation with Lelan from Durban. How refreshing to speak with someone who just ‘got’ us? He was good for us, and we were apparently good for him. He was so encouraging when we were still a bit down after the whole Eastern Cape ‘thing’. It was wonderful to see the shining face of a new faith. We have no idea what we said but he was convinced we’d been sent. We don’t argue since we don’t believe in coincidence anymore. He also made the first donation to our cause. Even for that one moment along the entire trip, all the negative was worth it. And we must also acknowledge all the positive.
We’ve been strengthened, uplifted, encouraged, treated, spoiled in fact, by so many people. There have been prayers, hugs, handshakes (despite covid, mind you), smiles, waves, hoots, thumb-up and even a guy dancing on the side of the road as we went by. The work we’ve been trying to do has been encouraged. People have been so kind and generous along the way. We’ve had countless freebies and huge discounts on amazing stays. We’ve been treated to meals, upgraded to formal accommodation, photographed, placed on others’ social media to gain more exposure, introduced to valuable contacts, had countless invites … We’ve been blessed with health, strength, stamina and endurance. We’ve been injury free (despite Suzann falling over the tent peg) and could accomplish much on little intake some days. When we rained wet, we dried off. When we got cold, we warmed back up again. When we cycled through a scorcher, we didn’t even get a sunburn. When the mozzies ate us for breakfast, the red knobs faded. When the wind was too terrible from the front, the road was quiet enough to slipstream the vehicle. When the weather was unpleasant, we had formal accommodation (for the most part). When the thunderstorms rolled in, we were kept safe. When the roads became impassable, we still got through. When our bike was almost stolen, it was not. When we ‘lost it’, we always ‘found it’ again. When our beds deflated, we could pump them up. When things broke, there was always duct tape. And bad smells can be sorted with a little washing powder and a good airing!
It was hard to leave the following morning especially when the owner and his wife insisted on returning our already discounted payment for the night as another donation to the cause. But we had a booking for a few day’s rest at Glengarry near Kamberg … also still in the beautiful, green Drakensberg. The cycling day from Underberg wouldn’t be so successful as the gravel roads again were a challenge and Lynsey hadn’t rehydrated properly so she was totally ‘flat’.
Eventually there was nothing for it but to load up the bikes again and drive to the holiday farm. The campsite overlooking the dam and a spectacular view of the mountains would be home for two rest days. But rest means ‘fix it’, ‘wash it’, ‘get it up to date’, ‘clear it’, ‘clean it’, ‘get some order in your life’ … and a teeny-weeny bit of R&R.
That was usually the case with rest days but … We’d hardly swallowed down lunch than the storm clouds gathered to begin raining their contents down on us. At first there was still some hope that the storm would pass but when the thunder just rumbled louder and louder, we were finally forced to retreat into the tent. It was raining so hard that the runoff from the little roof out front was actually pouring in at the mesh door. This required us close the canvas door and zip it down tight. The day was overcast and the clouds overhead dark, so the canvas igloo we call home became a dark 2,5m x 2.5m cell full of wet washing … again suspended from our makeshift line in the roof.
We’d been forced out to reposition the vehicle. Hail had begun to fall and the white stones were none too small. So we squeezed old Hamilton in under as much foliage as we could and hightailed it back to the tent. Luckily the hail didn’t last very long and was soon replaced by continued rain. It thundered down on our tent until the seams could no longer hold up and we began to leak. This required us try to reposition the beds but as soon as the one leak had been sorted, we sprung another. So we figured, ‘ag, just leave it’.
The thunder crashed on in one continuous roll interspersed with flashes of lightening. It became very cold very quickly and this forced us into our sleeping bags, clothes and all. What to do though? When ‘I spy …’ started to yield guesses like g-fly for something beginning with a ‘g’ we knew the game was over even though there was a fly that had somehow got in the tent with us. Then it went on to singing Christmas carols. Mostly it was just the first verse or the chorus and when the little drummer boy came up and it became ‘pah-rum-pa-pum-pum … something about a drum …’ we knew that was over too.
With the vehicle parked way over the other side of the campsite, under the trees, and the constant drumming rain, there was no way of getting a bite to eat without risking a near-drowning. Peaking at the time on the phone, we counted down the minutes to 8pm because the hourly weather forecast had promised it would let up at 8pm. But it was only after 8 that we could risk a sloppy sprint through the remaining drizzle, avoiding the frogs and being lit up by lightening every now and again as if in the beam of a search light. And that was just to get to the loo! Then we still had to grab something out of the back of the bakkie to nibble or we’d have had to go to bed hungry. As it was, the chip roll and salticrax was not enough to sustain Lynsey and she had to snack again at about 3am. At least the storm had finally moved on by then. The following day we would only come to realize that we’d, in fact, spent 15 hours in a dark, leaky tent that had begun to smell like dirty feet!