Surviving The Toughest Day In South African Cycling

Mud, sludge, snow, sleet, rain and wind – day 1 of the Berg and Bush Great Trek had it all yesterday… – By Aaron Borrill

Em Gatland

Image by Em Gatland

Day 1 of the Berg & Bush Great Trek felt more like Berg & Mush  – the 99km stage was marred by overnight rain, hail, snow and sleet. We awoke to near-perfect weather but two hours before the already delayed start, the heavens began to open. It looked like something out of Revelation, such was the severity of the conditions.

The rain, lightning and thunder was unrelenting and, for a moment, rumours about the day being called off altogether spread through the tented village like a plague. A last minute decision was made by Gary Green and his team to neutralise the stage for the safety of the riders. However, we could still ride if we wanted. Decisions…

Em Gatland

Image by Em Gatland

This also meant the infamous Solly’s Folly – a 20km single-track drop down the escarpment – would be re-routed down the tarmac descent of Oliviershoek Pass to water-point 1. Easier riding but we’d still have to negotiate 99km and 1000m of elevation gain in some of the worst conditions the event has ever seen.

Despite it being a non-competitive day owing to the adverse weather several crazy cyclists decided to race it anyway which made things quite interesting for those able to keep up. Apart from the weather another challenge was the altitude. The day started at roughly 1750m above sea level and, for those not used to thinner air, huffing and puffing even at moderate speeds would be the order of the day.

Em Gatland

Image by Em Gatland

Mud played centre stage for the entire day. Bike tyres were clogged rendering them gripless and the terrain as a whole made the day feel appreciably tougher than the 99km advertised on the tin. The treacherous conditions meant there were lots of falls but also lots of laughs and memories made that will last a life time. For some however, it was a day of survival. Many pulled out. I got through but my body and bike took a hammering. Ah yes, my bike – I just hope it’s okay…

Em Gatland

Image by Em Gatland

Today things look a lot different – it’s still cold but the grey and gloom have given way to blue skies – it looks glorious. We’ve been told the Drakensberg Mountains are covered in snow and that the views are spectacular. I just hope there’s no mud along the way…

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