At the end of April, a group of mountain bikers joined Jaco Strydom on his annual Vendaland tour. We started from the Beit Bridge border post at Musina, and cycled South through Vendaland and Levubu to Haenertsburg, and then turned East through the Wolkberg Wilderness Reserve to finish in the Lekgalametsi Game Reserve. Thirteen riders undertook the journey, shadowed by three 4x4 vehicles and support crew, all thoroughly versed in the art of driving over nearly impossibly rough terrain. A total of eight days of riding was completed, covering a total distance of 500km, virtually all on dirt.
Day 1: Beit Bridge to Tshipise, 97km,
Day one was mostly flat, past beautiful Baobab trees and citrus orchards. Rough corrugated roads and blistering heat made the first day quite hard. We were compensated for the suffering by soaking our sore muscles in the warm pools at Tshipise where we were sleeping over.
Day 2: Tshipise to Camp Mangwele, 52km
This day started with a stretch of Jeep track through a game farm. The reward of cycling 25km through thick sand is that game tracks shows up very nicely in it. We were lucky enough to see fresh elephant tracks (though fortunately not their owners). The route then veered South through Vendaland and finished at Camp Mangwele.
Day 3: Camp Mangwele to Entabeni hikers hut, 50km,
The emphasis of day three was climbing: a full 1650m of it! The route took us over Soutpansberg, and featured jeep tracks through shady pine-scented plantations. We welcomed the sight of Entabeni hikers' hut at the end of the day.
Day 4: Entabeni to Madisiya Lodge, 48km,
What goes up must come down, and thus we kicked off to an 8km downhill through pine forests, offering some beautiful views of the Lowveld. The route then meandered South to Madisya Lodge, where 4 riders left us to go back to Gauteng.
Day 5: Madisya Lodge to Karisa Moya, 97km.
This very long day required a pre-dawn start, and initially took us over 60km of relatively flat terrain. The monotony was broken by frequent spaza shop stops, where Jaco taught us how to drink salted Lemon Twist, and the official MTB recovery drink: the Brown Cow. This concoction of milk and Coke tastes a little like a Coke float, and really hits the spot after a tough climb. The day had a sting in the tail with a 20km uphill, and finished at Karisa Moya - a stunning lodge with spectacular views.
Day 6: Karisa Moya to Haenertsburg, 27km.
Day 6 was mostly easy, with exhillirating downhills through plantations on the way to Haenertsburg. Our bikes involuntarily took us to the local pub where we finished the day with a Castle Milk Stout and pizza. Being back in civilisation certainly has benefits!
Day 7: Circle route around Haenertsburg, 50km,
Our second-last day saw us climbing a total of 1400m, to the highest point in Limpopo: the Iron Crown. We had to carry the bikes a fair distance up the hill, and I discovered that this becomes significantly harder if you have a 29er!
Day 8: Wolkberg to Makutsi Camp, 75km.
To make this day more manageable, the support vehicles dropped us close to the Wolkberg Nature Reserve entrance. We cycled along the coveted Ivory 4x4 Trail, and encountered technical downhills, portaging bikes across Lekgalametsi river and the most evil thorn bushes in the world. We then crossed over the Ori Baragwanath pass, stopped briefly in an "enchanted forest", and finished the tour with the most amazing 11km downhill, all on tarred road.
Our support crew was brilliant, providing lunch and cold drinks when our spirits sagged... and making sure that the cold ones stood ready at the end of each day. We were free to hop on to a support vehicle at any time, but for most of us it was a matter of pride to finish "every f-f-fabulous inch" of the tour, and thus become members of the EFI club.