We left on Friday morning. It was an easy 7 hr drive from Cape Town to Willowmore, turning right off the N1 (one can also get there via Route 62) after a quick Wimpy lunch near Laingsburg, and then heading to Prince Albert before passing through the beautiful Meiringspoort pass, where we stopped for a few pics at the waterfall.
There were plenty of emails sent out in advance by Team EcoBound, a family run business, explaining exactly what to expect in terms of registration, the route, weather conditions, gear required, logistics etc. In particular, we were warned about the cold, and the fact that more than half the riders in “The Race” the week before, did not finish.
We drove directly to the Willowmore Show Grounds for registration, which was quick and efficient. There was a great vibe at registration, and we enjoyed the music, fires, food and drinks. There was a variety of good quality riding gear on sale for any last minute requirements. We were given 3 small crates per team, to be filled with any items of food or clothing that we might need en route. These would be sent forward to 3 designated checkpoints.
After a great supper (braai and beers) at the showgrounds, we drove a few hundred metres to the Willowmore Secondary School hostel, our accommodation for the night, prearranged through Team EcoBound. The hostel was a buzz of activity, and spirits were high as riders made final adjustments to their bikes and gear. The hostel itself was pretty basic, but we were comfortable enough in our own 4 bed dormitory.
We dropped our bakkie off at the Rotary drop-off point close to the hostel at 6 AM, for it to be shuttled down to Jeffreys Bay. Reality hit as we rode the short distance to the showgrounds in the rain. It was 1° C.
We had a hearty farmers breakfast in one of the show ground sheds, and although we were dry, it was clear that the cold would play a factor in the day and night that lay ahead. Fortunately, the high attrition rate (I suspect due to the very cold conditions) from the previous Saturday had served as a warning to us. All 4 of us wore at least 4 layers over our upper bodies. I wore a fleece paddling top as an undergarment, a long-sleeve riding shirt, gilet, waterproof riding jacket and buff. It seems like a lot but it’s worth noting that at 9:30, after 2 ½ hours of riding, the temperature dropped to 0.5°C.
We rolled over the start line just after 7 AM - it was a rolling start between 7 and 9 AM, at the riders discretion. The heavy rain had subsided to a light drizzle, and except for my hands which were numb within the 1st few kilometres (I wore thin full- finger gloves), I was wet but comfortable.
The 1st 110 km were fairly fast, albeit very muddy, on a good gravel district road. The open rolling hills with Karoo shrub give way to some steep passes with spectacular rock formations, as one descends into the floor of the “kloof”. There are numerous river crossings, and our legs were wet the entire race. At about 110 km, the race really starts as most of the climbing happens from here onwards. If you’ve burnt all your matches at this point, you’re in trouble!
There are 6 manned checkpoints (and one unmanned) en route, with compulsory stops, for safety reasons, where every rider needs to be accounted for. There is plenty of food (soup, rooster brood, kebabs, potatoes, bananas, hot and cold drinks, energy bars etc) available – we didn’t have to carry any of our own food. Our prepacked crates that were forwarded to 3 checkpoints came in handy – I swapped gloves for an alpine hiking pair – what a godsend!
We turned on our lights at about 6:30 pm, just beyond checkpoint 4. At this point our legs were really feeling it is as the steep climbs took their toll. Our spirits were lifted at checkpoint 5, 180 km into the race. It was an oasis of lights, music, fires and food. We had a cup of hot chocolate and a slap-chip roll – doesn’t it get better than that!
The last 50 km were a grind. Shortly after checkpoint 7 we hit a 3 km stretch of road that was literally a bog, littered with riders trying to clear mud off their jammed wheels and chains, in the dark. We couldn’t ride or push the bikes due to the wheels gathering mud, a bit like a snowball, and jamming.
We eventually resorted to carrying our bikes. This was the low point of the race for us, and I thought that it would definitely be the undoing of some of the riders who were at this point exhausted, cold and wet.
With about 30 km to go, we could see the lights of Jeffreys Bay. The rest of the race was a blur. We reached Jeffreys Bay to a warm welcome – it was 11:25 pm. We didn’t stick around to chat! Our bakkie was waiting for us in the parking lot nearby, and we packed our bikes and headed to our B+B for a hot shower and lots of snoring. All in all, a great race. Well-organised, beautiful route and lots of fun. Will definitely do it again.
The 2022 Trans Baviaans 24 hr Mountain Bike Race took place on 13 August, with the “Repeat” taking place a week later. It is a 227 km single stage race through the spectacular Baviaanskloof, with 2843 m elevation gain, starting in Willowmore and finishing in Jeffreys Bay. Riders enter as teams of 2,3 or 4. We entered as a team of 4 – MJ, Dion, Brendan and I, and did the “Repeat” on Saturday 20 August.
Billed as the toughest one day race in the country. Ian Marr took it on and shared his experience.
Images courtesy of REBLEX, Llewelyn Llyod Photography & Ian Marr
Dr Ian Marr is not only a well-respected Cape Town surgeon but is also an accomplished mountain biker, surf skier and trail runner, in fact if Ian isn’t working, he is outdoors doing something active. Ian is a proud family man and generally all-round good guy.