Slickrock in South Africa (a ride report)- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Slickrock in South Africa (a ride report)

    So, our slickrock certainly doesn't come close to Moab or anything like that, but it is slabs of sandstone and it's great! This was my first time on slickrock, here's my ride report x-posted from a South African mailing list.

  2. #2
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    What can I say about a weekend that leaves you tired but happy, and dying to get back on your bike to go play again?! Well, you know me, usually a lot!

    Elsie and I organised that the three of us would ride together using Brendon's new Nissan XTrail. We met at our house at 6pm, got packed up and out the gate within a record 30 minutes and hit the freeway. The trip out to the N3 OneStop petrol station was uneventful and we found some of our friends already waiting for us. The rest of the gang arrived soon after, and after a quick Wimpy burger dinner, we headed off in a 5 car convoy. After a few hours, we arrived at Paul's family farm. The farmhouse is huge, with 4 bedrooms, 2 lounges, a big kitchen, etc. We unpacked and had a drink or two before hitting the sack. Hardy pointed out to us in the dark that we would see a huge lake just below the farmhouse the next day. "I can really see what you mean!", I quipped, staring into the pitch black!

    Not long after arriving, we thumb wrestled for who was going in which rooms, and hit the sack, with QT joking that she would be waking us at 5am!

    About 7am the following morning, the household dragged itself awake, and by 9am, we rolled out of camp. We cycled about 5km through Fouriesburg and into the nature reserve. After paying our entrance, we headed out on the hiking path that would take us to the chain ladder and the slickrock payground.

    What can be learnt by riding hiking paths? Why how to carry your bike across your shoulders of course! Some people will look at a lesson like this and question it's value, but I was thinking ahead, specifically to the Burma Road portage on Dusi Mfula for next year. Hey, this is a valuable technique!

    After the hike a bike, we ended up in a huge cave. It was a smoothed sandstone overhang so typical of this area and really awe inspiring. I am constantly amazed, not just at the power of nature to sculp and transform, but also by what a beautiful country we live in. We are truly fortunate to call South Africa home!

    Just ahead was the end of the kloof, and the chain ladder. Paul demonstrated the technique of climbing the chain ladder with your bike dangling below you and then graciously offered to porter bikes up the ladder. I gratefully took him up on the offer, whilst some of our braver colleagues attempted this daring feat of courage! The two memorable carries were done by Powergirl and QT, you girls are fantastic the way you faced your fear and did it!



    Next was my turn. I sucked it up, mounted the ladder, and staring straight ahead, I mechanically moved one foot, then one hand bit by bit until the ladder was done. Phew! When I reached the top, the view took my breath away. Beautiful slickrock stretched off in all directions. After a quick snack break, he headed off to play. Paul, Jan and Elja showed the rest of us how this was done, and soon we were zooming down the slope and slowly crawling back up again. Slickrock is really sticky and you have to resist the urge to keep checking if your tyres are flat, it's just the noise from the extra grippy-ness. I certainly didn't have the speed or the hang time of Paul and Jan, but I was proud of the small dropoffs that I rolled over.


    Elja on the slope.

    After a while, we headed further down towards the dam and beyond. We explored some loooong uphills before zipping back down again. When I downloaded the HRM file at the end of the day, I was shocked to see that we had done a total of 577m ascent over 2 and a half hours of ride time, and only 28km!

    Eventually, it was time for lunch. We split into 2 groups, those taking the chain ladder and those riding the jeep track back round to the front gate. I chose the longer route and was rewarded with Y.A.B.U. (Yet Another Bloody Uphill!!). But the climbing was good and all the training has paid off. We made it back to the car and ate some frozen Yogisips, some fruit and muffins before riding the 5km (with looong uphill!) back to the house where most of us whiled away the afternoon discovering the inside of our eyelids!

    After such a tough afternoon, we declared ourselves more interested in dinner than a night ride (that and the lack of a discernable offroad track for us to take) and we gathered around the campfire drooling over the mouthwatering aromas from Brendon's famous leg of lamb in red wine sauce. Bad jokes were told (and laughed at) and lots of food was eaten, before we retired once more to deep slumber, dreaming of giant ledges of slickrock, over which our bikes would fly...

  3. #3
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    So, Sunday dawned without a cloud in the sky. Many of us rose to the smell of breakfast cooking. There's nothing like the smell of boerewors (like a kind of sausage!) frying to wake you up! We had a wonderful breakfast under the sandstone summerhouse before making our plans for the day.

    We had decided to go and ride at the Swampdogs farm 30km outside of Fouriesburg. But we faced a 'small' problem. Paul had some level of implicit permission to ride there, but we had been unable to get hold of either Wappo or Allan to confirm that it would be alright. Venturing out on the fact that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, we decided to go for it. Some of us opted to pack up right away so we could leave straight from there, whilst others planned to return to the farm after the ride. Elsie, Brendon and I agreed to make it an earlier start and packed up the car.

    We drove through town and along what felt like an endless dirt road. As we drove further up the valley, we could see more and more patches of slickrock on the hillsides. Nothing can make a budding freerider more excited! Of course I'm conjecturing as I'm nowhere good enough to even have aspirations of freeriding (blush!).

    We arrived at the farmhouse and tried to find the farmer to greet him and tell him our plan. No sign of him. But of course, it was a Sunday morning. He was probably at church whilst we were out playing in God's own playground!

    We parked the cars outside the gate to the Swampdogs section of the farm, and lo and behold, there was the farmer on his tractor, feeding the bulls. Seems even God understands that the animals must come first!

    Oh ja, did I mention bulls? Yes, three hulking bulls were feeding just off the jeep track that we would have to ride up. We set out after getting the farmer's blessing. QT was ready to sprint uphill in her middle chainring if need be, but I guess a combination of extreme tiredness and my inflated confidence after facing down white rhino in Botswana saw me slowly spinning past these weapons of mass destruction. Luckily they were much more focused on their meal, and I eventually made it to the top of the hill. I may have been the last to get there, but I pedalled the whole way, a feat worth smiling about.

    I felt a bit like a diesel engine that takes a while to warm up. My legs were still telling me "You want us to PEDAL?! Are you MAD?!" But after some beautifully crafted switchbacks down the valley once more, my legs started to work as we sped across the first bridge.

    Now these were fairly wide bridges, but I'm not good at ANY bridges! I'm proud to say that I rode 4 of them this day! Talk about a win over my mental fear! We stopped at the bridge section to take some photos, both of people riding across the bridges, and our intrepid leaders showing us how to ramp over the stream! Only three of us got up the courage to ramp. For Frequent Flyer and Paul, I'm sure it was easy as pie, but Vlam followed suit in an amazing display of Kahones! Well done Vlam! Hardy was considering it, but on a hardtail, this is a decision not to be taken lightly and he made the right decision to leave it for another day.



    Once played out, we headed on, through a stand of indigenous Ouhout, under a wave of rock, and out along the edge of a huge sandstone ledge. We crossed the bottom of the valley before starting a looooong slow climb up the other side.

    In defense of the designers, whilst the hill was long and hard, the trail had been made beautifully. 100% singletrack, they would make you push/ pedal hard up a steep slope, and then you would have a moment's respite before the next uphill. The trail switchbacked on itself, slowly slowly climbing the massive hillside. Every now and then we would pop out onto a patch of slickrock before burrowing into the indigenous brush once more.

    We rested near the top on a slab of rock looking out over the valley. Everyone was still in high spirits whilst we ate our snacks before setting off. Soon the trail changed to a rollercoaster of technical proportions, mostly offcamber in what was very dry loose sand. I really had to concentrate not to stiffen up and just roll through, but it was too much for me and occassionally I practiced the 'quarter turn technique'. This involves trying to get started again after dismounting. You clip the first pedal, and rachet it through quarter turns whilst pushing off with your inside foot trying to get sufficient momentum!

    There were a few scary downhills, and this time Hardy the Hard Man took the challenge and made us proud with his excellent descent of the smooth rock patch.


    Soon we reached denser bush and a surprise skinny bridge. I walked this one with no guilt, but was thrilled to see Elsie, QT and Elja pedal it with style! Elja later confided in me that she was following so closely behind Vlam that she was on the bridge before she could even register that her tyres are on wood not trail!

    We stopped for a bit and scrambled up the left fork to look at 'Cathedral Corner', a beautiful sandstone overhang as awe inspiring as any church. Quite appropriate on a Sunday! We stayed a moment before heading back to the bikes and the steep technical descents. I admit to walking a lot over the next few 100m, but I rode small bits of slickrock (with handfuls of brakes!!).

    We came across a big slab of rock, with a huge dropoff on one corner. Ever the helpful photographer, I set up for the shot, and even managed to time it right to catch Frequent Flyer and Paul as they flew over the edge!




    Soon we were down the hill, where we stopped for a quick turn at the pump park. This looks a lot trickier in real life I tell you!

    At last tired, we turned to the cars, where we said our goodbyes and turned our backs on this beautiful new MTB terrain. We headed for home, but these frozen waves of stone would remain with us, in our dreams of grandeur.

  4. #4
    Mmmm Rocks Good
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    WOW! What a great passion hit! South Africa sounds like a really cool place to MTB. Add in the potential danger and beauty of the wild animals and you have something that cannot be duplicated. Sounds like a dream vacation to me!

  5. #5
    I like Squishy Bikes
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    wow

    nice write up



    *puts S. Africa Slickrock on his list of things to do when I win the Lotto*
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  6. #6
    Nightriding rules SuperModerator
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    Great writeup!

    Thanks for sharing!

    South Africa is beautiful!

  7. #7
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    Thanks guys! I love living in South Africa! We have such diversity of environments, from highlands with rolling grass hills, semi desert, mountainous ranges, some deep forests. Lots to keep you coming back for more.

    I always find it interesting to see the different perceptions of each others countries. We don't really have so many dangerous animals wandering around, in some ways it's very similar to the US that we have some snakes and stuff, and maybe a leopard or two but you'll hardly ever see them. It sounds similar to how you guys will have mountain lion or cougars, but you're unlikely to see them even when you're out in the backcountry. As an example, 3 lions recently escaped from one of our big game reserves and it was broadcast on the radio! So not an everyday occurance!

    Most of South Africa is divided up into farmlands each owned by someone. The reports I read on MTBR make me feel like you guys in the US have way more government owned land/ reserves than we do. Also, we don't have such closely controlled access rights, but access is an issue the same as it is in the States.

    P.S. All of you daydreaming of visiting, you get flights organised and we can do rides around the country on a shoestring budget ;-)

  8. #8
    beer thief
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    Very cool, thanks for posting!

  9. #9
    Yebo Numzaan
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    Hey Mich I am from SA and live in Seattle at the moment. Awesome reading your report. I am coming out in March / April and will have to rethink about bringing my bike.....and take you up on that offer....

  10. #10
    Salty Snacks!
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    We're thinking of coming to SA for a wine tour/world cup trip when the world cup is held there. (2010?) Mountain biking might be a nice way to complement the rest of the trip.
    For Pebbles -
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  11. #11
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    Very nice!

    That shot of the ladder climber carrying the bike is one of the coolest I've seen in a while.

    Well done.

  12. #12
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    Hey! Two takers already! Woo hoo, bring it on!

    Seriously, our house doesn't have a spare room, but then we'd probably take you riding outside of Johannesburg anyway. Look me up when you want to come Muttonchops and Zippy Slug!

  13. #13
    Salty Snacks!
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    For me it will be a couple of years... Keep your email and MTBR account up to date!
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  14. #14
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    Hehehe, i'll keep it up-to-date, promise!

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