Cycle South Africa Challenge Blog

Welcome to our Cycle South Africa 2017 blog! Here you can see how the 42-strong team got on with the challenge. The below was written each day of the challenge by our very own Harry (Events Officer) and Florence (Head of Fundraising).

The Cycle South Africa challenge was also tracked in real-time, courtesy of our corporate partner Microlise, a telematics and fleet management solutions provider who has a team of four involved in the challenge.

Day 1: Friday 10th March – Travelling to Cape Town

So the big day is finally here! This afternoon, 40 participants from across the transport and logistics industry are flying to South Africa, with Transaid’s Florence and Harry, where they will be undertaking the mammoth task of cycling 450km over the course of 5 days! The route will take them from the De Doorns, Western Cape to Cape Agulhas – the Southernmost point of the country, and will pass through some of South Africa’s most spectacular scenery along the way.

The Transaid office is filled with excitement and anticipation – we’d like to wish every cyclist the best of luck for the ride – we hope you haven’t forgotten to pack your padded shorts!

Day 2: Saturday 11th March – Arrival in Cape Town

On Saturday morning the team arrived in Cape Town where they were met by their challenge leader Henk Blankenburg. On arrival at 8am it was already 18 degrees – a sign of what was to come! Florence said “The prepared ones amongst us donned our shorts and we all headed to Stellenbosch with Henk“. Stellenbosch is known as the ‘City of Oaks’ for its large number of oak trees and is situated in a region famous region for wine, but as Florence commented “we were just there to stretch our legs, to purchase bandanas and to drink some refreshing, cool soft beverages before getting back on the road“.

The team arrived for lunch at Barley and Biltong, where as Harry explains “the more adventurous among us tried Boerewors – effectively a spicy sausage“, and everyone enjoyed the spectacular views from their table:

After another van journey the team finally arrived at their first hotel; the quirky Karoo1 in De Doorns. After checking in was the exciting moment of meeting the bikes for the first time! “Bike fitting then took place, and we even managed to have our first faller of the ride (no names mentioned)!” said Florence. Once everyone had been fitted for their bikes there was some time to relax and enjoy the secluded, tranquil setting; “a visit to the pool or bar followed, before we settled down for a briefing about the challenge ahead. Excited to get started, we all headed to bed early” commented Harry.

Day 3 : Sunday 12th March – Day 1 of cycling, De Doorns to Montague, 114km

Today’s the day – the first day of cycling! The team had an early start, beginning with breakfast and a team stretch and warm up, lead by Henk:

A quick team photo and they were off – facing their first full day of cycling, starting with a 20 kilometre ascent over
Rooihoogte Pass. “The first 20km was all on tarmac and the team were required to get to grips with our gears early on. After a few hills, some rain and even a rainbow, we regrouped for our first break stop, before starting the descent down the spectacular fruit growing Koo Valley” said Harry. Florence continued, “We were soon off road, to be met with driving rain and a strong headwind. This didn’t last too long, with bright sunshine soon appearing – catching many out (the are definitely some sunburnt faces amongst us)!“.

After lunch on a farm’s front lawn, the real climbing began. In the 35 degree heat, we climbed multiple hills as we made our way to the top of Ouberg pass. As we reached the top, we drew level with the clouds capping the mountains in the distance. Our reward was a downhill, but it was a bit scary in places and all of our hands are a bit sore after being on our breaks for most of the descent!” said Harry, “The hot off road section continued and we were all delighted to see our water break in the distance“.

The team tackled a further 6 kilometres, before reaching their chalets for the evening in the day’s final destination of Montague; a peaceful town steeped in history and famous for its awe-inspiring rock formations, orchards, vineyards, local herbs and healing hot mineral springs.

Day 4: Monday 13th March – Day 2 of cycling, Montague to Barrydale, 89 km

A slightly shorter Day 2 began with another 5.30am start – the team assembled outside Montagu Springs chalet, ready for another tough day of cycling. The ride began alongside the majestic Langeberg Mountains, Florence said “we started together slowly as a group, passing through Montagu and the hop plantations on the edge of town“.

Soon the route turned on to undulating dirt roads which continued for about 18km; “We soon started climbing again and tarmac was swiftly replaced with dirt track – sore legs, bums and arms became quickly apparent! Later we stopped at a rural distillery for a drinks break (liquor consumption was strictly forbidden), and pressed on along the dirt track, with a few hills for good measure“, Harry added.

Soon the team reached their next break point; “All talk was of what was coming next – we knew it would be hilly and we had been warned about the 5km we’d have to climb just before lunch“, said Florence. The road rose steadily to the top of Op Die Tradouw Pass; “It was tough, but everyone made it to the top to be rewarded by beautiful views and a tasty cheese sandwich!“, commented Harry.

The last section of the route promised to offer some relief, dropping down to the small town of Barrydale and the final stop of the day. However, as Harry explains; “After repeated promises from Henk that the post-lunch ride was all downhill, we faced an immediate climb. There was a beautiful mountain descent to follow, but the section following this certainly wasn’t entirely downhill!“. Nevertheless, the whole team made it into the Karoo Art Hotel – a quirky lodge and the perfect place to put their feet up for the evening for a well-earned rest. That evening, Florence concluded; “We’ve just been told that an extra 20km has been added to tomorrow’s route, making it 108km in total, but we’ll worry about that tomorrow! 74km completed today – everyone is sore but in fantastic spirits!“.

Day 5: Tuesday 14th of March – Day 3 of cycling, Barrydale to Malgas, 80km

Cycling from Barrydale, the team set off at 7am and began the day’s route, which promised plenty of climbs and exhilarating downhill sections, winding down between the mountains before rising up to the top of Tra-douw Pass; “Fortunately we were mainly cycling through the mountains rather than up them this time!” said Florence, “the pace was a little slower than normal this morning as we all kept stopping to take photographs of the beautiful views – in particular, there was a fantastic viewpoint 12 kms in – so whilst there were a few climbs, the views were definitely worth it!

After the team’s first water stop at 23 kilometres, the tar turned to dirt and the undulations began. The next section was tough with quite a few sharp inclines; “There was a ten and twelve per cent climb for those cycling buffs out there!” commented Harry. After tackling this difficult section of the route, the team were rewarded with a second water stop; “This water stop saw people trying to take a photo of a lone ostrich, before a whole lorry load turned up!” said Florence.

From this point the undulations got worse, the heat started to pick up, and everyone needed to battle through the climbs before reaching the lunch awaiting them at the 57.2 kilometre mark – a delicious spread of cheese sandwiches, potato salad and salad. “As we lay around recovering from the morning, two of the group’s tyres exploded from the ever rising heat. That signified that it was time to try and get to the hotel without it getting much hotter,” explained Harry. Afterwards, they all set off to take on more dirt and even worse hills – this 21 kilometre section was real a challenge, with many people stopping at the top of each hill to survey the next one. The route soon descended sharply into the valley below where the team found the Tradouw River.

Turning left they passed Grootvadersbosch, the oldest farm in the region, before crossing the N2 at Slangrivier, and riding through rolling fields to the Breede River – which was to be crossed by hand operated pontoon! “We waited for a pontoon to come and collect us and take us across. Somehow we managed to fit our back up van, trailer, another vehicle and 42 cyclists (with bikes) onto the tiny pontoon. Many of the cyclists helped to pull the pontoon along to the opposite banks of the river,” described Florence.

Soon the team were able to find their hotel for the evening, reaching their overnight destination of Malgas. Lastly, Florence added; “most of the cyclists then headed to the bar for a well earned cider, but a few keen ones went out for an extra (and very hot and windy) 30km! A great day with stunning scenery, and we’re over half way through our challenge!“.

Day 6: Wednesday 15th of March – Day 4 of cycling, Malgas to Arniston, 90km

Despite the best efforts of Henk, the team were rewarded with a lie in and didn’t have to set off until 7.45am. Leaving Malgas and the river behind, the first challenge of the day was a very steep tarmac hill. As the team began to skirt the De Hoop Nature Reserve headed for Bredasdorp, the biggest town of this grain growing region, the tarmac quickly turned into a dirt track. “We were met by a strong headwind and driving rain“, said Harry, “this continued until the first water stop, and most people were very soggy and very tired with only 18km of the day completed.”.

Due to the severe weather conditions, the back up van was packed with people trying to dry off; “It felt a bit like a game of sardines!” commented Florence – so unfortunately the group weren’t able to spot the numerous blue cranes (South Africa’s national bird), storks or Cape Vultures living in the area. They did however pass an Ostrich farm along the route, and many of the cyclists stopped to snap a few pictures (or selfies in the case of Florence!).

The team set off again as the sun started to come through, however the wind remained in full strength; “Some of the group said the headwinds were at 40 miles an hour – it certainly made cycling tough! The next twenty kilometre section felt much longer, and we arrived into the next break stop exhausted and ready for lunch.” explained Harry. This however, was a further twenty kilometres away, so the team had to remount their bikes; “There was very bouncy black Labrador at this break stop and he followed us a significant distance as we started the next section.”.

After another ten kilometres of battling wind and dirt the group were finally met by a Tarmac road. This was still a challenge however, as the wind had not abated, and even on the downhill sections they needed to pedal hard. “Soon we caught a glimpse of the town where lunch was to be held, and we all gratefully pedalled towards it. It was 3.30pm by the time the last cyclist made it in for lunch, and we were all absolutely starving!” said Florence.

Henk promised the next section was flat and wind assisted, but we didn’t really believe him. However it did turn out to be true, and we all picked up the pace for the last 21km. The sun was beating down by this point, and legs and bums were very weary after four consecutive days of on and off road cycling. The flat sand dunes started to appear on the horizon and it was clear we were nearly at the sea.” described Harry.

Finally, the team turned to the coast and arrived at the fishing village of Arniston, where they stayed overnight in rustic chalets. Florence added, “Today was tough, probably the toughest day yet. But we are all very proud to have made it this far, and sad that tomorrow is our last day of cycling. An epic finish line awaits, bring on Cape Agulhas!“.

Day 7: Thursday 16th March – The final day of cycling, Arniston to Cape Agulhas, 77km

Today the whole team woke looking forward to their final day of cycling, but worried about the possibility of severe wind like the previous day. “It was a chilly start to the morning, but luckily there was no wind and the weather seemed to be in our favour” said Florence. The group headed back to the main road and stayed on tarmac for the first six kilometres; “again we were chased by a dog!” added Harry, “this time, a small yappy white one”. It wasn’t long before the tarmac returned to dirt roads and the cyclists bumped along to the next break stop.

After the break, the team was back on tar and the pace was quick; “by 10am we had already done 38km, which was a huge contrast to yesterday” commented Florence, “lunch was a mere 13 kilometres away and we arrived by 11am – the earliest lunch of the week. I think it was most enjoyable morning so far – very few hills, no wind and manageable heat!

Once the group left their lunch stop they had just 26 kilometres to go until their finish point. “We faced both tar and dirt, but none of us were fazed as we rode towards our final destination” said Harry. The team were soon rewarded by views of the sea; “an absolutely beautiful blue colour, a colour you would never see in England” described Florence. The wind returned for the last bit of coastal riding, but the lighthouse that signified the finishing point could be seen in the distance.

After lots of photos of the ‘welcome to Agulhas sign’ (the most southern town in Africa), the cyclists all regrouped for beer, iced coffee and amazing milkshakes before the last 800 metres. “We tied balloons to our helmets and rode two-abreast to the finish point. A glass of champagne and a medal awaited us all, and there were lots of hugs as we revelled in our achievement” said Florence.

Finally, the team gathered together for a huge number of photos around the ‘you have reached the most southern tip of Africa’ sign. “We are all amazed at our achievement and immensely proud” finished Harry.

Day 8: Friday 17th March – Shuttle to Cape Town and celebration dinner

After breakfast the team will transfered by road back to Cape Town where they had a free afternoon and optional afternoon tours, including wine tours, shark cage diving and day trips to Table Mountain. This was followed by a celebration dinner in the evening, where the fundraising total was a announced to be £207,000. Since then, more money has come in and the current total stands at an incredible and record breaking £222,000.

The next Africa challenge has been announced as Cycle Zambia – Lusaka to the Victoria Falls. Email for further information.

Real-time tracking, powered by Microlise: