In 2017 a team of local cyclists, environmental activists and filmmakers embarked on an epic 9 day, 1100km journey across some of South Africa’s harshest and most beautiful landscapes to oppose hydraulic fracking in the Karoo. The Ride for the Karoo route, saw them visit 9 Karoo towns while traversing the mostly gravel roads that link passes to valleys to plains, where only the most resilient of life survives.
The route winds through dramatic Karoo landscapes, at various points ascending and descending the mighty Nuweveldberge mountain range. Transversing three provinces, until it eventually drops down the dusty Ouberg pass into the desolate Tankwa valley, where it then traces parts of the early Cape Epic trail to end in Paarl.
This fundraising effort combined the making of a documentary film with supporting and recognising the efforts of local activists opposing this environmentally destructive mining technique in each town and community along the way. More about hydraulic fracturing and the Karoo can be found here
Kirsten Wilkins @contestedspaces shares some insights as she and the team gravel grind across this magnificent landscape, amplifying the voices of local environmentalists and digging deep for the right reasons.
The drive up to Graaff Reinet from Cape Town built both excitement and anticipation. Knowing that we would be cycling all the way back, plus an additional 700km on gravel became real as the long road trip offered both thunder, dust devils and buffering winds. On day 1, a 5:30am start saw us heading into the hills of Graaff Reinet. Riding my first gravel grinding CX bike, a Niner BSB Duo3, I was blown away how this spectacular machine took on the bone shaking rattles of the Karoo’s best corrugations. As only one of two non-mountain bikes in our team of 12, she fared beautifully over Day 1’s 1900m of climbing and the undulating gravel all the way up the final climb to Nieu Bethesda where we were to spend the night.
Our lunch stop for the day, was a magnificent display of elegance and relaxation at Karoo Ranching. Support for our ride, the anti-fracking initiative and the desire to see Karoo towns thrive is ever present. Day one brought us together as a team and set the scene for the challenges to come.
This journey through the heart of the Karoo is showing us the worth in the beauty and culture on the surface of this magnificent landscape – what lies below surely cannot be worth its destruction.
The ride briefing for day 2 would have us believe that it was to be an easier day. While we had done half of the climbing during day one, we had double the heat, as the full power of the Karoo sun took effect. Our approximately 110km journey took us from Nieu Bethesda to the tiny town of Murraysburg, where we were greeted by the giggles of children playing in the street.
It looked like a strong ride for the ‘roadies’, but my arms and hands felt the bone shaking corrugations of these roads. I was connected to every undulation of the diverse landscape, shifting from shale to clay. The versatility of the CX bike was a joy, as we moved through different terrain.
I was grateful for the respite from the heat and hospitality that local families provided. It is the culture of the Karoo to welcome strangers and certainly something worth fighting to protect – precious groundwater is the salve for the weary traveler.
MEET THE TEAM
Many thanks in particular to Bike Mob and the numerous sponsors large and small who are contributing to keeping us on the road.
A journey to challenge all of us. For nine days, twelve cyclists traversed the mostly un-tarred back roads of the central Karoo. Braving +40 degree temperatures, all in opposition to hydraulic fracking in the Karoo.
9 Days | ⇔ 1 100 km | + 8 961 m | ≡ Tar/ Gravel
Q: What happens when you mix bikes, wine and a bunch of strangers? ANS: A whole lot of fun and camaraderie.
David Donde, of Truth Coffee, one of Cape Town’s most loved bike friendly coffee shops, shares his passion for cycling, coffee and urban transformation.