Bushveld biking at go2berg – Day 5
When you turn on your television at 5am this Sunday to watch the Comrades Marathon, you’ll be guided through the 87km by veteran presenter Gerald de Kock. Others will pop in and out of the studio, by Gerald’s cool, calm conversations will prop up the broadcast.
It’s a soothing, sonorous voice I first learned to enjoy when he was still doing cricket commentary, while the man it belonged to I eventually got to know when I was a young cricket writer for a sports magazine and he was by then the media officer for Cricket South Africa.
Times were different back then; Gerald wore a suit and a tie and dealt with important cricket matters. These days – mercifully for me on stage 5 of the Old Mutual go2berg – he spends more time in cycling kit than suits.
The omens for my day on the bike were not good. I woke at 3am, sweating and nauseous. Even more foreboding, I could only manage one flat white at breakfast instead of my usual three. The barista seemed to sense this disturbance when I failed to reappear after my first coffee – ‘You gonna be okay to ride man?’ he asked with genuine concern.
Starting the ride was foolish, but the day 5 go2berg route prepared by Berg & Bush owner and co-organiser at go2berg Gary Green and his talented team of trail technicians was just too good to miss.
From the Berg & Bush home of the Em’seni Race Village, the route took go2berg riders over the Tugela River, immediately onto a picturesque aloe-lined climb called Wagon Trail, through Spion Kop Lodge and onto a series of bushveld singletrack trails that Gary – I call him that now because after eight years of knowing him, I can finally tell the difference between a sprinkler and a pivot – and his crew have lovingly built and tended to over the many Berg & Bush years.
Day 5 winner and overall leader Phil Buys had no issues on these blistering bushveld trails, romping home in a time of 2h50 to claim the stage and further extend his overall lead. A cross-country practitioner par-excellence, Phil would have been in his element shooting up the switchbacks of ‘Shongololo’ and whipping down the likes of the wild and winding ‘Puff Adder Pass’.
This rider, on the other hand, was not having so much fun and was found by Gerald hunched over his bike just before the second climb of the day. As much as I enjoyed his cricket commentary, it was the happiest I’ve ever been to hear his voice. ‘Oh dear,’ he said, in a fashion you might hear when some drama unfolds during this weekend’s Comrades.
Commanding and kind at the same time, even when I asked him to ‘leave me alone’ (but using words not suitable for publication), Gerald nursed me along the trails. Bizarrely, even as my face turned greener than the aloes with each passing pedal stroke, I was still able to enjoy the descents, such is the flow and freedom with which they run out here in Berg & Bush country.
After what felt like a lifetime of singletrack packed into one morning, and one daft crash where two fine ladies cycled into each out of concern for me (‘We were thinking about you, saying you’ve never looked so bad. We stopped concentrating and just, sort of collided’), the route turned onto a district road that was screaming a gale with the intensity of a thousand-year imprisoned banshee.
Navigating that stretch took some effort before I parted ways with Gerald and the concerned local lasses and they made their way up Gary’s latest trail creation, a 4km singletrack climb to the top of Spioenkop with 50 switchbacks to get you there.
Phil Buys said he tried to count, ‘But after a while, I gave up! It was just too many’. From the top, the day ended with the rollicking rollercoaster ride of Long Drop Pass and other trails – a 13km singletrack descent in total – back into Em’seni.
For the trail purists, it was a day of exhilaration. For the professionals, a chance to express themselves. And for the average Joes in the field, a time to rely on friends to lend a helping hand and gentle words of encouragement.
Friday is the last day of the 2023 Old Mutual go2berg. Riders will leave Em’seni just outside Winterton and head to Champagne Sports Resort in the Central Drakensberg. No doubt, there will be champagne, cheers and maybe a few tears to mark the end of what has been a fun, challenging journey.