The Sishen Saldanha Ride
I am sharing this information in the interests of promoting a new cycling route.
Build on what I have done.
Share your experiences.
Share your experiences.
This idea for this ride was born out of a number of things:
Curiosity – to see what lies in the far reaches of Bushmanland
Adventure – at just over 1000km it's a ride by anybody's standards.
Respect for the environment – riding this bipolar trail will touch you. Left is high tech, man-made, heavy industrial wilderness. Right is the open veld, a lot of open veld in fact. It's all big sky country.
A desire to be alone. A chance to get to know my new GT Peace 9r
This might yet turn into a regular ride, my dream would be to involve local residents, Transnet staff and railway workers from Groblershoop, Kenhardt, Brandvlei, etc. If you have ideas or contacts, please let me know.
It is of paramount importance to remember that this road belongs to Transnet and we're not supposed to be there. All it takes is one idiot with an attitude/intelligence imbalance and we'll never be allowed back. If you see or hear vehicles approaching, GET OUT OF THEIR WAY. They are not expecting to find cyclists on their road! Do the “cyclists have rights too” advocacy bit at home where it's needed.
If you are seriously considering doing this ride, please get hold of me and I can talk you through some of the detail. My contact details are at the end.
The RouteYou follow the Iron Ore line from Sishen to Saldanha, travelling about 1000km on the service road which runs almost exclusively on the north and west side of the line. The route starts at just over 1000m above sea level and drops down to sea level, so I can't quite decide whether this makes it downhill, flat, or uphill when the wind blows, (which it does.)
There are Passing Loops approximately every 50km, the evenly numbered loops have water. (That you should know ;).
There is a surprising amount of traffic on the road; every Transnet person I met was helpful and genuinely interested in what I was doing. Respect that.
I did two loops off the service road (one to Witsand and another to Loeriesfontein), next time I'll stay on the service road all the way.
You will, however, have to leave the service road to cross the Gariep at Groblershoop, the Olifants at Vredendal and the Berg at Velddrif. Do not cross on the railway bridges, that's primal sin territory in Transnet terms.
When?Autumn, winter, spring. Not summer. There will always be someone who has to try doing it in summer. If you die doing it, you could spoil it for others.
How long?It's an overnight trip from Cape Town (must be less from Johannesburg) to the start by Intercape bus. Allow about ten days for the riding, at about 100km per day.
Take with you:
- Bicycle (It's better on a single speed, but isn't it always?)
- Water (be ready to carry lots (I was carrying 8 litres at one stage)
- An MTN phone (the other network is locally known as “Woudaarkom”)
- An open mind
- Squirt and something like Spanjaard's Spark to stop corrosion near the coast
- Stan's Tubeless Liquid (you are riding tubeless, aren't you?)
- Sleeping bag
- A small selection of the other junk you always carry!
Leave at home:
- Your GPS, if you can't follow a generally straight road without your GPS, stay on the indoor trainer.
- Your maps. As above.
- Attitude. No need to bring any, you'll find lots along the way.
- Your iPod/music player. If you need a noise in your head, listen, there's probably enough already. Also, if you get run over by a flying Transnet bakkie because you didn't hear it coming, then bad choice of music. This is not a spinning class for shaved legs.
The SSSS Story aka The Boesmanland Bliksem
I semi-stripped my bike and packed it into a re-used bike boxed kindly supplied by Olaf of Crosstown Cycles (021-761-0112). The rest of the kit I packed into my backpack and pannier bags. The Intercape bus trip departs CT station at 18:15 exactly. Booking, buying the ticket and getting the bike box checked in was a breeze. The bus drivers inspire confidence by their cautious driving. Bus trips are as bus trips are, but for R480 CT to Kathu plus R150 for the bike you can't complain.
Stopped at Kathu a little behind schedule due to a diesel shortage in Upington. Assembled everything in the shadow of a retired open-cast digger. The re-used bicycle box was gladly accepted by a group of builders nearby.
Set off at 12h00 exactly with a strong tailwind, too much traffic and too little shoulder. Anyway after about 20km, turned in towards Dingleton and onto the service road. What a relief to be off the tar and suddenly it dawned on me... I had a thousand km to go!
Easy riding , settling into this business of riding a loaded bike along bumpy roads. Surprisingly, there wasn't much falling off of equipment. Still carrying a heavy head-cold and feeling like crawling under a bush to rest. This was to play a role in calling and end to the day at 78km.
Some lovely roads to ride on, and a good chance to meet the Transnet Rail freight rally driving team - at very close quarters - but then it is their road.
I left the service road north of Witsand after taking some pictures of the rail and road disappearing into the Kalahari distance. (As it turns out, I should have stayed on the service road)
Beautiful sunset with low cloud and drizzle, so I camped in the road reserve about 45km north of Witsand. Light rain during the night, so the extra weight of the tent has paid off. Supper of Smash and a packet of Tuna, cooked in the ubiquitous fire bucket. I was later to realise that I should have brought many more of these tuna packets, as my food supplies were short of protein.
Packed up at dawn and headed for Witsand, still feeling “pap”, so planning an easy day and a short rest at Witsand.
I had the idea that Witsand would be a good stop. OK, it's still got hot water, but not much else. I resisted buying their single tin of baked beans (would hate to deprive the next person of the pleasure) There is a Telkom call box, but no, they don't sell Telkom Airtime. Next time I'll stay on the service road. The detour, on very rough roads, did give me the chance to meet two interesting farmers. If you haven't been to Witsand, go and have a look, but it's not really necessary to stop there for a hot shower on the second night.
Day three dawned cold, with an icy wind and I set off for Groblershoop, through some of my favourite Kalahari, but the... the... the... the... roads!!! It was here that I met the farmer who builds his own “pyp-kar” because ordinary bakkies just don't last on these roads. Congratulations to the Northern Cape Department of Roads (I'm sure they have a title like “Special Directorate of Linear Public Transportation Systems, Subsection Horizontal Surfaces” ) Well, cycle friendly they are, congratulations to them for taking hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres of good gravel road and turning it into highly technical multitrack. Thanks guys. We've got just the bike for you.
For the cyclists who are reading this:
Over the Gariep and into Groblershoop, a long day. Found a room to stay at the back of the butcher, hot water, warm bed. That evening I met “Meggie” Visser (one of the main manne in Transnet) at supper at the local, he was mildly amused by my undertaking and we parted with the regret that he wouldn't see me the next day as he was heading to Kenhardt and I could not possibly make it through to Kenhardt on a bicycle in one day. A well understood challenge!
Flew out of Groblershoop filled with some apprehension, as it entailed another stretch on the tar to Kleinbegin, but it seemed that Groblershoop was keen to see the last of me. I was blown along the loooong downhill at a steady 30kmh, always a good way to start the day! Whatever your belief about good things coming to an end, they do, at Kleinbegin. Here starts another provincial dirt road, not something you would want to take your own vehicle onto. Fortunately it's not too far until the rail crossng and a chance to get back onto the Van Dorp Highway. The condition of the service road is a tribute to Jaco van Dorp and his team, they maintain a thousand kilometers of road and do a good job of it.
Today was the day that I found a groove, and covered some good distance before the lunchtime stop. Seems like a stop at 15km for a biscuit and water and then a lunch stop at 50km was going to be the pattern. Another stop at about 70km for more fluid and food. Then I hammered on and before I knew it I was in Kenhardt, rolled down the main street and off to the Post Office to collect my Dankie Tannie parcel. (As part of my strategy, I had posted standard Post Office boxes filled with supplies to Kenhardt, Loeriesfontein and Vredendal.
Even though I only sent them three days before my depature, they were all there waiting for me when I arrived. (The Loeriesfontein Post Office even phoned me to tell me the parcel had arrived).
Meggie Visser's face was a sight to behold when I rode past the hotel, so shocked was he that he gave me heaps of useful information on the route ahead. Dankie Meggie.
Sometimes these small towns can be depressing, as the level of economic activity is so low and there seem to be almost no opportunities for those who live here. And then in amongst this all you see the glint of a diamond. A young woman (who grew up in Garies ) is now the Lovelife co-ordinator for the region. She's having a tough time getting locals to buy into the Lovelife thing, it seems that HIV/AIDS hasn't yet hit Kenhardt (as the locals see it, that is) I mentioned that maybe linking with BEN could help by giving mobility and (maybe) some “status”. It was encouraging to talk to her, all on her own, trying to sell the Lovelife concept in a community where such things are deemed to be “not necessary”. BEN, or anyone who knows BEN, I hope your ears pricked up at that!
Taking Meggie Visser's advice, I headed out of Kenhardt on the tar, taking the most direct route to the railway line. All the advice I had been given indicated that this was a super-smooth flat road. Never ask non-cycling, bakkie drivers about the status, condition or length of a road. Particularly if they are driving someone else's bakkie!
This was to be another long day, having been advised to stop at Whitey Basson's farm (he of Checkers/Shoprite fame), I decided rather to push on. Wasn't really sure if I was in the frame of mind to handle a bunch of urban “skieters” busy filling their freezer trucks with meat. Rode to the far end of Loop 11 where I set up camp in a construction site. My thoughts of sneaking into one of the shipping containers to avoid the wind were dashed, it was full of creosote-treated poles! Set up the tent in this the most desolate of all the campsites I chose. Icy wind, trains roaring past, vehicles going up and down. Then sometime in the middle of the night I was awoken by the sound of a bakkie driving right up to the tent, hooting and shining it's lights at me. I stuck my head out to see who it was:
“Wat maak jy hier, Wie is jy?"
Like hey Bru what does it look like I'm doing? Raising the Titanic or what.
Believe it or not I'm cycling from Sishen to Saldanha and now that it's night,
this is where I'm sleeping. (That went through my mind, but I had the decency
not to say it)
Is jy mal? Ek weet nog nie. Kry jy nie koud nie? Nee nie eintlik nie. O” ....and off he races into the night.
To be entirely fair, they probably don't see too many cyclists around here.
No sooner had I fallen asleep than I was awoken from a deep sleep by a train going right through my tent......six big diesel locos roaring in unison makes the lions of the Kalahari sound rather meek.
No sooner had I fallen asleep ...again... when a bus-load of railway workers arrived, they arrived at 7am from Brandvlei, that must be 150km away. They soon had a huge fire going and insisted that I join them around it. Nice guys, somehow the people who do the physical work were able to appreciate what I was doing, and were not threatened by it. They felt no need to make the give-away comments one frequently gets from others. Which brings me to the subject of cycling humour, of which there's plenty on www.drunkcyclist.com
It's an interesting thing this, the need to felt by some to make “jokes” about cycling. The “funniest” one I've heard? When the bakkie driver says to the cyclist at the end of a cold 150km day against the wind “I believe horsepower is better than manpower” Doesn't that just crack you up? And then the bakkie driver walks away thinking what taciturn pricks these cyclists are, they don't even appreciate a good joke!
Packed up after warming myself around the fire and making the by now ritual firebucket of early morning tea. At no stage was I so hungry that I had to eat the OatsoEasy. That day will surely come. The home-made muesli crunchies were a boon, a serious boost with a fire bucket of tea. They seemed to give the power for the first 25km and lay the foundations for a long day
Today was not to be. An icy headwind blew smack on the nose. One of life's simple lessons. This was a battle I was not going to win, so I settled in for a long slog. It was interesting to reach Halfweg, where I carried my bike over four sets of tracks and headed for the staff kitchen. This was the place where Vrinnemeid (“nee, hulle noem my maar almal so”) organised more fresh water for me. I don't remember too much of the rest of the day except that the workers had warned me of the hills at Loop 9. Having decided to freestyle things (i.e. no looking at the carefully compiled route map), I had no idea that I was so close to Commissioner's Salt Pan. Anyway, I set up camp on a sand dune, strategically located so as to be largely out of site of road travellers...and directly in line with trains coming round the corner! By now I was organised. As I stopped, I whipped off my sweat-soaked cycling gear (or rather peeled it off at this stage) and hung it on bushes to dry, alongside my sleeping bag out to catch the last rays of the sun. Always nice to get into warm dry clothes.
Tonight I dine in style, Mexican Beef and Rice (Backpacker's Kitchen). Two large servings it says on the pack – wolfed it all down without a second thought for what the other person was having for supper. Into bed not long after the sun set. The trick is to forget about time, otherwise having to go to bed at 7pm and the thought of twelve hours in the tent could be daunting. Anyway, having clocked up 77km during the day against the icy wind was a good effort.
Woke up in my own time, having had the nightmare of nightmares – I had pitched my tent on the tracks and the train was bearing down on me, in fact it was too late. Really got to get to the bottom of this, the fear of sleeping on the railway tracks! I kid you not, the sand dune seemed to shake as the train rumbled past.
Exercise can't get your heart beating like that. Never.
One advantage of getting up very early is that you get to shake the ice off your tent before it melts and wets everything.
Off into the early morning chill after the tea and crunchie routine. Nice breeze from behind and it wasn't long before round a corner I saw a sheet of water. Turns out this was Commissioner's Salt Pan (right now it's more Commissioner's Brown Soup Pan) after the good rains that have fallen here. The crystal white sheet of salt will have to wait till next year!
By now the wind was pumping from the East, helping sometimes and others not. Not too long and Loop 8 appears, this being just before the turn-off for Loeriesfontein.
Not too far along is the magical turn-off to Loeriesfontein...howling wind by now, but mostly from the left-rear quarter. Good progress as a result. Maar o hel, die pad is lank. Far in the distance is the Spitsberg of Loeriesfontein, far in the distance, far....
Along here is the Hercules windmill spinning at a positively dangerous speed, af tand en al. My instinct was to wind in it's brake, our heritage needs to be preserved. The final few kilometres into Loeriesfontein was hell. The road makes a turn into the wind, so fighting along at 10kmh. Then a rapid descent, too late I realise that should have taken the “volkspad” into town. The price? Pushing up the hill into town. Melanie at the hotel was waiting for me. Two Windhoeks en 'n moerse bord kos as promised. Great to be here at last, I have long wanted to see the windmill museum. Granting myself a rest day on Monday proved to be a wise decision.
Now, Loeries is another kind of place. It's the centre of a different universe. Boet Loubser assembling his Bushbaby's, the windmill museum (where Sonny Farmer told me that I should have applied the brake to the Hercules!) and the Boerewinkel. And of course, the hotel.
By the end of it, I was “uitgerus” and rearing to go. So with vague notions of a massive day directly to Vredendal, I headed out down that awful hill! I can clearly remember the distinctive smell of the bossies around here, recent good rains have made this a fairytale landscape. (Kathy- this is where you phoned me)
Turning onto the Klipbank road, my dreams of a downhill dash were blown away, wind can play havoc with our little plans! Along the north-facing slopes are a few solid stands of Kokerbome, go and see them while you can. Arriving back at the railway line was something of a shock, tip trucks roaring along in a seriously life-threatening manner. Fortunately I could hear hear them coming from about 2km away.
By this stage (and indeed before), I had begun to get irritated with the computer, or rather with being constantly reminded of how far I had come, how far to go, etc. If I was riding to a destination or just until the sun set, what the hell did it matter how far it was to go or when I would get there? I was riding for fun, at my pace. I put the computer to show “Average Speed”- which is anyway pretty meaningless – and pedalled. And pedalled. Somewhere along here I met Jaco van Dorp of Transnet. Jaco had played a key role in my planning, his intimate knowledge of the area and how things work along the railway line had influenced my choices.. Baie dankie Jaco.
By sunset, I reached the N7 bridge and felt ready for a challenge. After crossing the N7, I made a few phone calls and prepared myself for the night shift (I sneaked a look at the computer, it told me I had done 134km! So the 161km to Vredendal was within reach! Lights on (two front, two rear), reflectors clipped onto back and front and off into the darkness. Not another look at the computer. Needless to say this is one of the parts of the route where there are serious ups and downs. So lots of hair-raising downhills and pushes uphill. This night-riding is new to me. I can see why people get so hooked, everything else disappears and it's all happening in the narrow beam of the the LED's. Loop 4 looms, the night is pitch dark and cold and there's no way of knowing where to find my carefully planned shortcut to Vredendal. Bugger, bugger, bugger. I'll follow the advice given to me earlier (with a bottle of water) by a Transnet worker to continue until I hit the tar and then “just” go into Vredendal. Never under-estimate the ability of a bakkie driver to not notice a steep hill. Never. At 179km I phoned Jan Nel to tell him that I could see Vredendal's lights and that he could now stop worrying and go to bed. I think that's when he really started to worry!
I checked into the Maskam Hotel in Vredendal at 10pm with 182km proudly under my belt. I don't know that I could have pitched a tent that night, but I could carry my bike up the stairs – because I had to!
Nothing is easy. Nothing is difficult. Everything is possible.
Vredendal to Doringbaai was to be an easy 45km, the scenic route to the sea. Turned out to be possible. Just. 45Km in 5 hours. Howling headwind and pouring rain. Don't look for any character along that bit of the route, I took it all. Thankfully nobody offered me a lift because I would have taken it! The rain stopped at Doringbaai, and the wind was now from the side, so I made Lamberts in good time. Here is where mud-guards (fenders to some) would have been useful. Arrived in Lamberts Bay looking like an experiment in mudslinging, my chain grinding along and spitting out the bigger stones. At the caravan park I was faced with a choice of a campsite for R100 (with all my gear soaked) so I enquired about alternatives. I was sent a few hundred metres down the road to the Pophuis. A haven of note. The owner was amused that I insisted on hosing myself down before going to have a look at the room. She didn't seem to believe me when all I said was that I wanted a dry bed and a hot shower. For R100, I got both and more. Wonderfully hospitable Mrs Willa Burger even gave me tin of home-made rusks. If you ever spend a night in Lamberts Bay this is the place to stay. (Willa and Van der Merwe Burger 027 432-1317 or 083 234 4473)
Lamberts Bay was cold, but mercifully not wet as I headed towards Elands Bay and Velddrif. The constant roar of the sea off to the left kept on reminding me that the ride was nearing it's end. Not too hapy about that.
My visions of camping along the coast appear to have been a bit unrealistic (in winter anyway) My pedals (and other bits of the bike) had become a bit rusty after riding in the rain and then being in this moist seaside environment. That's what made for a classic stuck pedal fall in the parking lot at Elands Bay. The first and only fall of the ride.
Sitting below Bobbejaanberg having lunch, I realised that I didn't really want to leave this spot. I have quickly become accustomed to eating less and living a nomadic life. The thought of just keeping going crossed my mind, a few times!
I dragged myself away for the last blast down the coast to Velddrif and Graeme Murray. I have known Graeme for years, ever since I bought one of his Murray Orthoped saddles, but had never met him.
Sometimes meeting people you have placed on a pedestal can be a let down, after all who places them on the pedestal? In this case it was so totally different. Graeme welcomed me into his home and his circle of friends, I immediately felt as if we had been friends for years. I find that we have much in common. When I mention that I find the cycling computer irritating, he casually mentions that he got rid of his years ago 'What purpose does it serve?”
Graeme also happens to be a genius inventor and maker of things extraordinaire, most of the stuff at the MTN Science Centre is made by him. Not concerned with what's cool or fashionable, Graeme has made saddles that work, based on sound principles and state of the art materials. His new prototype saddle is a work of art, one of those extremely rare combinations of form and function in perfect balance. The very latest Bontrager saddles look like copies of Graeme's saddles (see the website) They are now saying what Graeme has been saying (and winning multiple awards for), for years!
The last day was a reality wake-up call as Graeme and I set out to complete the final leg to Saldanha Bay, to the end, (The Very End as seen on the Google image). That's the point at the end of the groyne facing the iron ore terminal. Back into the world of reckless, stupid motorists, the noise of vehicles rushing past on the tar was an assault on the senses. On the other side of things, this was also where I saw a huge mole snake (it looked like a black python!) on the side of the road, catching a few rays of winter sunshine.
Oh, I nearly forgot. Graeme couldn't resist riding like hell on his gnarly million-mile legs, the wry smile in the photo is as he remembers seeing me spinning along behind him at a cadence approaching 2000rpm! Thanks mate!
Thanks to Jenny, who served us a picnic of note at the finish. I wonder if she knows quite how much hungry cyclists appreciate lots of good food. Thanks Jenny.
After spending the rest of the day with Graeme and Jenny, I cycled off at sunset towards Velddrif to meet Monica, Pippa and Harry. It's been a long ride and it's wonderful to see you all again.
Johann Rissik 082 853 7622 firstname.lastname@example.org
Graeme Murray 083 4321575 email@example.com
This one for a laugh: (Both links lead to the same video clip)
The Bike (This is about the bike)
GT Peace 9r, 32:16 ratio, WTB Exiwolf tyres, Stans Tubeless, Frame bag to caryy extra water, rear rack with panniers
- Stan's Tubeless (two 50ml bottles as spare)
- Murray Orthoped Saddle
- Modified rack (no 29'r racks in SA, you gotta maak 'n plan)
- Handlebar Bag
- Karrimor Panniers
- In-frame water holder (rawhide)
- Spare empty papsakke
- Handlebar mounted light and spare batteries
- Ergon grips
- Cycle computer
- Giant double action pump
- Topeak Mini 18 tool
- Gerber Multi-tool
- Spare tyre
- 0,5m strip of yellow reflective tape
- Cellphone (preferrably MTN)
- Petzl head torch, spare batteries
- Lighter & matches
- KISS knife
- Fuel tablets
- Old tubes as tie-downs
- Printout of narrative and Google images of route (not needed)
- Cable ties (big, medium and small, lots)
- One person tent (North Face Mountain Marathon)
- EVA foam mattress (the thick version!)
- Down sleeping bag
- Space blankets (2)
- Water (4l in a papsak, 2 cycling bottles, 3 x 1l bottles, 2 x 500ml bottles
- Rooibos teabags
- Dried olives
- Dried fruit
- Nut mix (raw peanuts, sunflower seed and raisins
- Packets of John West tuna
- Home-made crunchies (Bokomo muesli, butter, sugar, flour)
- Two minute noodles
- Jungle Energy bars
- PVM Energy bars
- Cycling shorts, 2
- Cotton shorts, 1pr
- Cycling shirt, 1
- Thin Fleece, 2
- Sleeveless fleece, 1
- “Paper” windbreaker, 1
- Rain jacket, 1
- Pep stores tracksuit pants (windbreaker)
- Fleece leggings, 1 pr
- Socks, 2prs thin, 2 prs thick
- Cycling shoes, 1pr
- Buff, 2
- Beanie, 1
If you want to know how long the trains are, here is the answer
Baie dankie aan Kobus Mentz vir die inligting