- Begin: Malmesbury
- End: Piketberg
- Distance: 81km (of which 50km gravel)
- Vertical meters: 1 027m
- Time taken: 06:40
At 08:20, after 2 hours on the bikes, we are sitting in the shade of a few massive blue-gums next to the gravel road. This is our first leg of gravel for the tour and the effect is immediately felt.
In an effort to avoid the N7 national road we have worked out a route along the back roads from Malmesbury to Piketberg where we will be staying with friends. Gravel all the way, or so was the plan based on scouring Google Earth for alternatives. The route through Malmesbury is quiet and we find our way onto the aptly named Piketberg Street. This takes us past the camp ground, uphill and then suddenly onto the gravel road. We stop and I deflate the tires. This helps a little, but the road is not in a good condition and the bikes shake a lot. The scenery and early morning cool air however compensates for the extra effort. We see 2 small antelope (presumably steenbokkies) and numerous bird species including bee-eaters, blue-cranes and some raptors, notably Yellow Billed Kites and Jackal Buzzards.
Eventually we reach the R311, the tarred road between Riebeeck Kasteel and Moreesburg and are faced with a choice. Left onto the tar directly to Moreesburg, then continue the last 30km to Piketberg along the N7; or continue on the gravel all the way to Piketberg. We discuss this briefly decide to push ahead on the gravel.
The gravel road is now in a better condition but the sun is already high and soon the heat is playing its part. We started the morning with between 5 and 6 litres of water and slowly I start wondering weather this will be enough. We cycle through some scenic valleys with a feeling of real remoteness. The effort however is beginning to tell and consistent with our moods, the territory is undulating, up and down.
Somewhere we are supposed to turn right on the gravel to Piketberg. However, we cannot find this road and just keep going on the “main” gravel. After 50 tough kilometers we reach the N7, just south of Moreesburg! This is almost the same location we would have reached via the R311.
At least we are now on the tar for the last 30km’s. Going through town will be a detour and we continue past the turn, slowly but surely for the next 20km. The sun however is unrelenting. With 10km to go we are nearly out of water and at the 5km mark, on the last long uphill we stop. Now officially out of water the effort required is increasing exponentially.
The last kilometers will be all in the mind. I’m no expert on mythology, but there is a character called Sisyphus who had to roll a huge boulder uphill, only to watch it roll back down again. This he had to repeat for eternity. For a moment I wanted to draw a parallel but I try and forget my self-pity and finally Sissy(phus) is in Piketberg.
The final straw that however almost broke the camel’s (cyclists) back: our friends house is high up on the slopes of Piketberg. Separated from our goal by only the last very steep uphill, my wife gets off her bike and sits in the shade. No more, that’s it! I rush back down into town and a few minutes later return with cold water and ice-tea. This improves our mood and we make the final effort to arrive just after 13:00 in close to 40 degrees.
After a physical and mentally tough day we are looking forward to friendship a rest day before we continue.