The brief was that we would meet at the school at 06:00 on the Sunday morning. Coachman and I arrived at 05:45 to find two teachers the bus driver and one parent present. Roll on 06:00 and the picture hadn’t changed much. At around 06:15 as the birds start to sing things started to look up as cars start arriving with bicycles on them. These were duly loaded onto the bicycle trailer attached to the bus.
At around 06:35 we departed via the N3/N12, R59 to Stonehaven, the official starting point.
At Stonehaven we met up with the medics and some more cyclists. Just shy of 07:45 we departed from Stonehaven with 16 cyclists, 5 cars and the bus with the trailer to Heilbron which would be our first stop for the day. At Heilbron we stopped outside the Spur and caused havoc in the parking lot while everyone got something to drink and eat. Not from Spur. The parents provided all snacks and refreshments, although a few did order coffee from Spur.
From Heilbron we departed for Petrus Steyn which was to be our next stop, however our lead vehicle seemed to think that Edenville was Petrus Steyn and this is where we stopped for lunch at some arb garage where there is a number to call should you require fuel, Free State dorpies are unique to the urban jungle.
Once everyone had had a bite to eat and some refreshments we departed for Reitz. The ride to Reitz was quick and easy going. At Reitz we pulled into Poelanie’s Guest House where we were to spend the evening. This place is a gem, if you happen to be in the area pop in as they have a coffee shop called Chocolat Coffee and Décor Shop attached to the same property.
Average speed for the day 23km
We left Reitz just shy of 08:00, and then were further delayed as some of the vehicles in tow did not pay attention to the brief and got lost, yes you can get lost in the Free State.
The going was slow, there was a headwind which was hampering the slower cyclists from gaining any momentum. Our first stop was at PEC Transport on the N5 just outside of Kestell. We all thought that it was a lunch break only to find out that it was a tea break around noon. Quite a number of the cyclists had suffered punctures, and these were all attended to at PEC, so our tea break was longer than usual.
We left Kestell and headed towards Phuthaditjhaba where would turn off and head towards Harrismith. About 3 km after the turn off all the cyclists were stopped, and a decision made that they would load all the bicycle’s and travel to our overnight stop. There was a family consisting of grandfather, son and grandson and another with father and son on a tandem, who decided that the grandfather, grandson combination and the tandem would ride the rest of the route. So, Coachman and myself landed up with the lead vehicle and the two bicycles and the tandem to escort. (A note here on the grandfather, no discrimination intended, but he could hardly walk, but on the bicycle, he took off as if he was Alfredo Binda)
Along this route I went ahead and swept the route to ensure that there were no obstacles in the yellow lane that could hamper their path, as this road is busy with buses and taxi’s traveling to Harrismith.
At the Bergville turn off is where the HM went rouge. When I got to the turn off, the board said 10km to Harrismith, and owing to the fact that I needed to get some odds and ends due to the uncertainty as to what would be available at the end destination, some quick calculations were done, and the decision was made, Harrismith would see a flash of the Suzuki DL1000.
All’s good with the world, I should catch Coachman as he is turning onto the Bergville road or not far up the Bergville road. The later occurred and caught up with Coachman and a lone tandem going up the hill. Now the temperature was dropping, so I decided to stop quickly and put something warmer on. Then my phone rings, check it’s one of the teachers, where am I? Answer with Bill. The rest I couldn’t hear as the wind was blowing. All snug and warm, hop onto the Suzuki and catch up with Coachman. We take turns at looking after the tandem while they’re climbing the hill, Coachman would do a blast up the hill turn around and then it would be my turn.
What Coachman wasn’t aware of and what I had paid attention to the night before, there is a lovely downhill pass and the discussion the previous evening among the cyclists was that they were going to give it carrots going down the pass, only difference now was that it was only the tandem, but in my mind I recalled the previous evenings conversation and figured that the dad and son were planning on doing just that.
And all to sudden the downhill starts, but wait, we have an 18-wheeler right behind the tandem. I motion to him to back off, which he kindly does. Now figuring that the tandem is going to go for it and how fast these guys can corner I hang back to see and sure as nuts they go for it, clock them at 80km on the one section, this is where I decide to go ahead keeping the tandem, Coachman and the 18-wheeler in my mirrors (the Suzuki DL1000 has old school barn door size mirrors but they work a charm). Now when we started the decent the cloud cover was looking ominous. Shortly after we pass Little Switzerland I look at the time on the Suzuki dash and see it’s getting late and looking dark, looking in the mirrors I can just make out the tandem. This is when I suddenly had a light bulb moment and figure out that I still have my shades on. Taking them off did change the light aspect to a degree but not much.
We arrive at the Amphitheatre Backpackers just after 18:00 with our tandem safely seen into the parking area.
Coachman and myself happy with the world and that everything had gone well, chat about the performance of the tandem. Then out of the blue some of the cyclists come and ask which one of us was missing, followed shortly by the medics with the same question. Coachman and myself look at each other puzzled. Then it dawns on me, the phone call I had received from the teacher, inform them it was me, but I was not missing, merely went for an extended ride (They don’t understand that I was loving the Suzuki DL1000 on loan from Suzuki SA).
Along comes the teacher and gives me a right royal bollocking with Coachman quietly stirring with a big wooden spoon he had bought at the curio shop on the way down the pass. Needless to say. It was a miscommunication between the teachers, parents, and medics.
As for the rest of what occurred that night will not be placed on record, Coachman and my banking details are available on request.
Ending day 2, Coachman and myself spent roughly 10 hours in the saddle.
Average speed for the day 12km
We left the Backpackers at 07:30 sharp, think that the majority wanted to see the back of the place, pardon the pun.
As we both would need to refuel, Coachman and I planned that one would shoot through to Bergville for fuel and then come back and relieve the other to do the same. Our plan worked but the organisers plan wasn’t so sharp.
Coachman and I landed up escorting the cyclists out with the rest of the convoy still stuck in the Backpackers, they caught up with us a few km down the road, and Coachman and I launched our plan to refuel.
This day was easy going, cyclists were doing good average speed and keeping the momentum going. Our first official stop was at the Pig & Plough in Winterton. The one oddity was that nearly all the places we stopped at were on the right, which meant you had to get the cyclists and convoy which now consisted of 4 cars and the bus across the road when entering or leaving. All in a day’s work for a Think Bike Marshal.
From Winterton we headed towards Escourt. They cyclists stayed bunched in a group which meant that Coachman and myself would assist the traffic in overtaking the convoy. On the R103 it was decided that we would stop in the middle of nowhere and have lunch. The brief given was that just outside of Escourt they would stop and load some of the bicycles onto the trailer as some of the kids were nervous about riding through Escourt due to some unsavory incidents the previous year.
But plans don’t always work as they should. On the downhill into Escourt the lead vehicle starts slowing the cyclists down and bunch them, plan working so far, but wait is that an intersection coming up! Indeed, it is, unbeknown to Coachman I had seen the direction boards to where we are going to spend the night. So, I pull into the intersection to close it off as the bunch is now not far off, and here is where things get exciting right up a Think Bike Marshals ally. The lead car decides he should turn right at the intersection which now opens the road up for the cyclists, who now decide to go hell for leather into Escourt with only Coachman and myself to look after the bunch, brief has just gone out the window.
We do what TB Marshals do best and close off intersections as they race through the pork capital of the world. We escort (another unintentional pun) safely through Escourt to the turn off to Blue Haze Country Lodge where we are to spend the night, once the group are safely on their way into the venue we head back to collect the rest of the convoy, which wasn’t too far behind.
We arrived early so had time to chill at a fantastic venue. If you want to know more about the place give Troy a shout, mate of his owns the place.
But now we have idle time, Coachman and I hatch a plan as to how we would play out the final day. We go looking for the two teachers, punt the plan to them, they’re happy but leave it up to us to propose to the parents. This we do after supper and when the kids have left the dining area. At first there is a bit of resistance but then they buy into the plan.
Average speed for the day 25 – 30 km
Before we leave Blue Haze Country Lodge we brief the cyclists on our plan. Shortly after 07:30 we leave with only the cyclists a lead vehicle and a sweep vehicle; the rest of the convoy is waiting for us on the outskirts of Escourt. We make light work of it with the cyclists nicely bunched and thread our way without incident through Escourt.
On the outskirts of Escourt we split the group into two team’s A & B with A being the stronger riders, plan is that A will leave first with a 5-minute gap before B leaves. This works like a charm, we have a lead and sweep vehicle for each team and Coachman will roam with A and I will roam with B.
This is where it gets hectic for the cyclist as they now have to climb Griffiths Hill, this is one continual climb till you reach the summit. A group do well, B group at some stage decide it’s easier to run up than cycle up. In the end both groups meet at the summit, take a break, and have some refreshments while passing around some sweeties to the locals.
From here they leave in two groups once again, majority of the route is now downhill and easy going. Our next stop will be at the Ugly Duckling in Rosetta and surprise, surprise it’s on the left for a change.
(Side note; never knew that the Ugly Duckling existed till this tour, and then see that they are all over the show in KZN and the FS).
Our brief was that when we enter Mooiriver at the KFC we turn right, my lead vehicle was over eager and did not slow the cyclists going into Mooiriver so they took advantage of the downhill and once again went screaming into another town, all in a days work for the TB Marshal.
At the KFC could not see a right turn only left so continued and led the bunch straight, thankfully in the right direction. We arrived at the Ugly Duckling for a quick bite and refreshments and once again left in two groups.
Now here is where things got a little interesting, whenever there was a turn off there was supposed to be a vehicle indicating the direction that we needed to go. When we arrived at Nottingham Road the medics were before the junction and didn’t indicate that we should take any particular direction. Our lead vehicle went left, and we continued on our merry way. After about 10km we hit a dirt road, continued along this for about 3km before the lead vehicle stopped. Then commented that it didn’t look right, no **** Sherlock. Anyways some calls and a search party launched we were on our way in the right direction. Where we went left out of Nottingham Road we should have gone right, this I had worked out all on my lonesome, so raced ahead and waited for them at the intersection to make sure they head in the right direction.
From here some of the kids seemed to have lost interest and took a Sunday ride to the Nelson Mandela capture site. We arrived there late in the afternoon. Then we walked the long road to Freedom and the statue if captured from the right angle shows Madiba’s face. Thanks speeches were done, photos taken and then it was time to say our goodbyes and start our individual journeys home.
Coachman and myself went to Harrismith where we spent the night at Mountainview Inn.
The following day we did Golden Gate, Clarens, Fouriesburg, Ficksburg. Unless you really must ride the road to Ficksburg rather avoid it, full of potholes and the town is a dump.
Make sure the lead and sweep vehicles each receive a daily map of the route, don’t trust a GPS or the different Android phone Apps. We were not always with the lead vehicles and a few times we had to guide them in the right direction.
Overall Impression of the tour.
Excellent Tour and fun times to be had by all.
Note: There are many a side story to the whole tour, with some very interesting people participating, although vast majority are youngsters there are adults who ride as well. The stories are to numerous to include in this report. And some will not be shared at all.