I had been dreaming of going bikepacking for a really long time and slowly began gathering together a tent and all the necessary paraphernalia. Finally in January I pulled the trigger and planned my first trip – a soft launch, something not too hectic, an easy overnighter with some gravel thrown in. How hard could it be? Turns out, it’s not hard at all! Especially if you have good friends to ride with (who’ve done it before).
PASSES & WAFFLES
We met at Hey Joe Brewery in Franschhoek on Saturday – hoping to finish off there on a Sunday and have a lazy lunch with a few beers to end of the weekend. The route for the day would take us 80km with just over 1000m of climbing from Franshhoek to ‘Champagne by the River campsite’ near Greyton.
The biggest challenge of the day was climbing Franschhoek pass with loaded bikes (I was very proud of the fact that my gear only weighed 12 kg). We sized up each others bikes at the start, checking who’s the heaviest. Who’s going to suffer the most?! We gently started climbing up and up and up the pass and stopped for a break a few times, that’s the beauty of riding like this. There’s no rush, you can stop anytime, take in the views, eat some snacks and relax. Right at the top of the pass we found the coldest, freshest water gushing out of the mountain and foraged for blackberries growing next to the road. I’m still not sure what this magical oasis is called (a few people in cars stopped there to fill water bottles – this spot would save our bacon coming back the following day)
If you’ve ever descended down the Franschhoek pass you will know it is one of the most stunning descents you could ever encounter. It’s just so special being on your bike, taking in all the smells, seeing everything up close with the wind whirling past. That descent is one of my all time favourites. Go do it sometime, you might end up with a smile on your face as big as mine when the road finally levelled out. Oh, and loaded bikes go downhill fast!
We rode at an easy pace until we reached Villiersdorp. It had just been pay day, and there was quite a lekker vibe in town. Our end goal was waffles ( at Kelkiewyn Cafe). Because waffles give you extra watts and they are delicious!
CHAMPAGNE & MIDNIGHT APPLES
After our waffle feast it was time to push onto camp. It was getting hot and we had some climbing ahead of us (with much anticipated gravel). Again riding at an easy pace, and climbing hills that seemed to know no end, we finally hit gravel with 15 km to go! The closer we got to camp, the closer we rode to the river’s edge, and we were all having visions of cold beverages and jumping into that cool water. To end off the ride my one pannier bracket decided it had enough. Thankfully Las saw the bracket disembark in pieces from my rack. (The pannier was successfully fixed that evening – tighten your pannier bolts when riding gravel folks).
Ivan who owns Champagne by the River campsite was one of the main reasons our bikepacking trip was so incredible. He kindly offered to purchase supplies for us in Greyton and have it ready for us at the campsite when we arrived. This included, wood, cold beer, wine, ice, and plenty of fresh vegetables to cook with. We were the only people at the campsite, which is seriously beautiful and well worth a visit. Ivan is an export apple farmer, and gave us the lowdown on how to pick a good apple (go for the red bottom!). He told us we were welcome to go harvest some apples if we wanted to (this would turn into one of the highlights of the trip – midnight apple harvesting is a once in a lifetime experience).
As soon as we set our bikes down David, Charl and Las swam in the river. It was fast flowing and beautiful. Then the moment of truth, setting up camp! We had so much space it felt like we each had our own campsite. I was thrilled to finally pitch my tent! As the evening progressed we cooked a wonderful supper, talked for hours and enjoyed the sunset and stars. The midnight apples harvested by ourselves were one of the best desserts imaginable.
WATER, WRONG TURNS & UNEXPECTED ENCOUNTERS
Sunday morning arrived and we packed up camp while consuming coffee and croissants. It was forecast to be an incredibly hot day close to 40 degrees, and we got away too late (9:15). We would soon regret this deeply. An hour into the ride Charl’s bike decided it was too hot, and broke a spoke. We thankfully had two spoke tools on hand (it pays to be prepared), but it took us almost an hour to get the wheel straight enough to ride the rest of the journey home.
We planned to incorporate more gravel going back. Avoiding cars and getting more gravel is always preferable. What this meant though is that we would not pass through any towns on route to Franschhoek. We missed a turn which resulted in us having to ride a bit longer. With the temperatures rising close to 40 degrees we started running out of water. Never did I think something like water could change a ride so drastically. We were getting desperate, but then we saw a farmhouse with movement inside and frantically started waving. To our delight an old Afrikaans couple let us into their kitchen, jugs of ice water followed and our bottles were filled. Meeting people like that, so happy to help was really special. I’m sure they’ll be telling their friends and family about the 4 parched cyclists they saved for some time…
We pushed on until it was time for lunch and a source of water was found (preferably something we could swim in!). Within the blink of an eye lunch was prepared followed by multiple dips in the stream. We got onto our bikes sopping wet from swimming, ready for hills, and then some more.
The temperatures kept rising the closer we got to the Theewaterskloof dam. We had to stop often in the shade, and water was running low again. Luckily those midnight apples came in handy and we could munch on them contemplating our next move – Are we going to make it back to Franschhoek in time for lunch and beer? Will this be our last day on earth? Theewaterskloof Dam was looming in the distance and yet again there were visions of swimming (and drinking lots of water). Riding along the edge of the dam, we soon located another swimming spot, pushed our bikes as close as we could to the water’s edge and walked into the water. It was the best swim I have ever had. We floated in the water and discussed how we would defeat the brutal pass back up to Franschhoek.
Drenched from our swim and bottles filled with questionable water, we forged ahead. The pass awaited, and after that we knew we would be rewarded with cold drinks and savoury snacks. We stopped a few times on the climb to gather ourselves and take in the views. It felt like the temperatures were finally starting to drop. Our return to the water point at the top of the pass was the best water we have ever had. There was a crowd of people up there collecting water, curious about us. Did you cycle up here? Sho its hot!
I will always remember that descent back into Franschhoek. The day was done, I was about to have the best beer I’ve ever had, and I cannot wait to do this again.
Photographs by David Malan, Everyday Cycle Supply Co.
One of South Africa’s most iconic rides – The Road to Die Hel follows a challenging 300km route through the Klein Karoo to ‘Die Hel’ (Gamkaskloof) – a hidden valley, deep in the heart of the formidable Swartberg Mountain Range.
5-6 DAYS | ⇔ 305 km | + 5839m | ≡ Tar/ Gravel
A pinch of getting lost, a dusting of danger and dollops of magnificent scenery and good ol’ South African hospitality, made the perfect ingredients for Lynnae’s first bikepacking adventure – a route that took her and friends through some of the most beautiful gravel and tar roads between Franschhoek and Greyton in the Cape.
OVERNIGHT | ⇔ 170 km (loop) | + 2265m | ≡ Tar / Gravel