Big 'White' Sky Ride - Lesotho - 2009
It was decided years ago, the dates with which to venture through Lesotho on a biking trip. It suited the racing season, and closing in on mid summer, we were almost assured the spectacular views from the mountainous heights, and the deep blue African sky that you see from 3000m altitude!
Little did we know that it would be a "White Sky Ride" in 2009! The weather was torrential en-route to Underberg, and I had a call from the Sani Top Chalet owner, to tell me that we needed to meet before venturing up the pass. He said it was snowing at the lodge! Perhaps we needed to ferry people up the monster climb into the altitudes... But our group would have none of it! They were decided that a ride up into the snow was the only way to do it!
What an Experience, starting from the SA Border at Sani bottom, we rode up the slippery rocks and river crossings in light cold rain, and with a few kilometers remaining we entered the snow line, and how surreal it is to ride into a cold whiteness of light snow flakes, following the earlier vehicle wheel tracks to keep our path, it became a challenge getting to the top into the ever thicker snow, fresh and squeaking underfoot!
Luckily it was just an 8 kilometer trip into the shelter of the Sani Top Chalet, and a raging fire and hot glass of gluhwein got people warm again, as more than 2 hours into that weather would have been disastrous! Everyone made it up, at different speeds, but safely, including our following vehicles, to spend a white night at the 'Highest Pub in Africa'! Not to be repeated often in November!!
The next morning the snow was even thicker, which posed a bit of a problem for the 50 km ride over Black Mountain! We did not know what to expect further up the road and at 3000+m so decided to ferry people in our little 4x4 vehicles, (our Drifter Truck had gone the long way around via Clarens to meet us in Mokhotlong). It so happened that it was only 5 kilometers into the mountain's plain and the snow had cleared, and it was dry, so dropping off the first group, we returned and the remainder of the group rode into the snow and slush, before the dry trip up Black Mountain and beyond!
Rain and cold greeted us on the third day, but cleared well enough for us to depart on the mammoth ride from Mokhotlong to Oxbow, 110 km of it. The road is good for the most part, and although the hills steep, the scenery was spectacular, although minus the Big Blue Sky! The biggest obstacle of the day is the long climb towards Tlaeeng Mine, just short of 20 km, and takes riders above 3100m in altitude. It is the longest tar pass to be found, I would think, in Southern Africa! The best restaurant along the road was found at the top, for a warm meal and drink! (The drifters truck and spagbol catered by Karel!)
The next part of the journey actually was the toughest of the four day trip, pushing the boundaries of endurance, in cold and rapidly changeable weather, we soldiered on at a constant altitude over 3000m, peaking over 2 miles up at 3280m! Everyone showed true grit and determination to get to the end of the ride, and achieved some of the toughest riding that they had ever experienced! (that is speaking of my final group, with husband/wife team, Don and Nicolle. Nicolle's previous distance record in one day - 50 km!) A few riders did the final part of this journey in the truck, some with a Maluti in hand! The last of the groups got into Oxbow, with riding time of about 6h30, descending through mist and rain to the welcome sight of the little village of Oxbow Lodge!
The weather finally cleared in time for the final day's ride off the highlands. Everyone got what I had promised, some Big 'Blue' Sky, so that we could don the jersey's of the 2-mile-high-club, and enjoy the spectacular views that the mountains offered! It seemed a breeze after the 1000m descent of Moteng pass, and along the flatter roads through the sand stone cliffs and to the border post at Buthe Buthe.
We were joined on this final day by Poloko Makara, one of the top riders from Lesotho, and Mark West of the Lesotho Cycling Association. They enjoyed the trip down to the border with us, and then the final lunch at the Fouriesburg Inn, where you find one of the best sunday lunches in the Free State! The trip back to the big smoke of Jo'Burg in the Truck was like a big party, the anthem of the trip, Op, Op, Op, Af, Af, Af, with everyone singing and dancing!
It has been an interesting concept, taking a bunch of riders through the highest roads that the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho has to offer. The weather is always a challenge, this year more than any other! It would not be possible to do this without the support of others, and of course, the participants. Thank you to Cam, Karel (Drifters Guide), Dominic (our great photographer), Linda and Gretha (massages and driving and bottles), and Waylon for a great few days, getting people through! Also thanks to those that assisted in any way, Drifters Adventours, Cam (your Landy and time), Team Medscheme, Panda Sports, First Ascent, Thule, Lesotho Brewing company (Maluti Premium Lager), Arran Brown's Cyclefit for the 'wet bags' (next year we don't do them so it won't rain!) Jacques and Rob for spreading the word so well, Fred and Waylon for driving the pace so well. Brigitte for following the riders and carrying bags in your vehicle, Mark West for joining us as well on the final day. Jade for the spares (luckily we didn't need them!) Of course, Sasol Swartgoud for the sandwiches and car washes! Thank you everyone who came along with your enthusiasm, without you, we would have had no ride! Hope no one was forgotten.
Some comments by a few of our riders:
- I arrived,
1) never having done a multiday event before,
2) with no knowledge of mountain biking
3) no appreciation for Boere Anthems....
Thank you for a mind bending, life shaping experience; Nic's White Christmas 2009! - Rick
- Thanks a million for an awesome experience and the opportunity to meet new people and learn new songs!!!
I think next year,
a) I will put in some serious preparation especially on mountains
b) Lose a few KG's -
c) Buy a new "fiets" that is at least 5 kg's lighter
d) Book massage sessions
e) Because of the above - ride with the racing snakes
f) Stop and enjoy the view a bit more. - Andre
-Op, Op, Op, Af, Af, Af (I could not sleep that bloody tune was going around my head)
Back at my desk and I know what I would rather be doing, climbing OP another mountain. It was great meeting you all over the weekend. Look forward to seeing you before the next “White Sky ride” in 2010 when Nic promises that we will have the Big Blue Sky above us. Nic thank you once again for organising an awesome trip. Your ability to organise snow at the top of Sani Pass in summer was special. Not to be repeated again! - Rob
- It was so well planned, and executed even, our big diesel engines managed to finish (ok only some). Nic, this is a once in a lifetime experience, and I really thoroughly enjoyed this experience, again! I have to admit that this is by far the toughest excursion that I have done in my short life. The company was excellent, the accommodation, the food, the back-up and support staff, the breathtaking scenery, the cold beers were all so well managed and organised! - Jacques - the 100 kg Mountain Goat!