The Cape Trek - 5 Provinces in 11 Days

Words: Keegan Longueira | Photos: Keegan Longueira & Trevor Aingworth

Road Cycling

For the second year in a row, I took to the road for a journey across South Africa by bicycle. My goal was to cross five provinces and reach Cape Town, covering a distance of 1,780 km, on a budget of R800, before my leave was done.

The Cape Trek - 5 Provinces in 11 Days

My first trek took place in 2011, when I cycled 2,100 km from Witbank to Cape Town, to raise money for CANSA. I spent 22 incredible days on the road, alone and with no support, and it was a trip that would forever change my life. Never again would I feel the need to indulge in materialistic things, but rather appreciate the experiences, memories and absolute bliss of real freedom.


The 'Cape Trek Project' was back in full force and a similar epic adventure, only this time with strict time constraints. I was joined by former junior professional cyclist Gert Janse van Rensberg and we had just two weeks to complete 1,800 km. “Two weeks, I have done way more in training camps in a week,” said Gert, a former roadie who was keen to try something a little more adventurous. Gert has done some major mileage on a road bike, which is not as heavy and you don’t carry your own luggage. I was sceptical about making it in two weeks, seeing how long I took the last time, but Gert was confident it would be super easy because he'd done the distances easily. We were both wrong I suppose. He didn’t realise how hard it was going to be and I didn’t think we could do it that fast.


Packed and ready for action, we were escorted out of Witbank by 50 local cyclists on 8 December. The support we received left a lump in our throats as we headed off into the vastness of Mpumalanga, alone. The first day was the flattest day we had until we reached the Karoo.


Day two and the problems began. We were fixing a second puncture for the day when we realised that we only had one tube left, and Bloemfontein was two days away. Then as we were offloading the kit from our trailer, Gert accidentilly dropped his pocket knife and punctured our last tube. It was puncture repair time already, and it was only day two.
By day three, we were well into the Free State, but this day held a challenge of its own! The sky turned orange in a flash, the wind became a gale force that blew from all directions. It was so strong that we couldn't stay upright on our bicycles, and then it began to rain. Not gentle rain, but forceful, hammering showers with the occasional hail stone pelting our flimsy rain jackets. It was only 2:30 p.m., but it was already dark and we needed to find shelter, so we took refuge under a bridge. We were cold and wet, but that was the least of our problems. All we had was a can of vienas in brine and one roll to last us to Bloemfontein, 120 km away.


We set off on day four grumpy and tired after a terrible night in the tunnel. We finally reached Bloemfontein and tucked into some good food before overnighting at Tom's Place, kindly sponsored by the owner.


By day five, the trip began to take its toll on our weary bodies; we were getting up slower and moving more gingerly. Our plan was to reach the Northern Cape that day, so we dug deep and pushed on, but it was a tough and difficult day of cycling. Entering the Northern Cape, we took in the picturesque surroundings and then made some phone calls to loved ones, while munching on fresh, green apples. We never appreciated those apples nearly enough, as a couple of kilometres down the road we lost the entire bag when the bag ripped open. All our beautiful, green apples were annihilated in seconds by the N1 traffic.


Day six was an absolute nightmare! We had heat, wind, storms, dehydration and even two crashes to add to our headaches. About 80 km into our ride a nasty crosswind had come up, so I snuck into Gert's slipstream and chilled a bit. When I moved out, my mirror caught the back of his bike and my bags collided with Gert's trailer. Thankfully, we were able to untangle ourselves and keep going. But the real fun had yet to begin! Gert took off at about 45 km/h and introduced himself to the N1 tar. As he crashed, I went straight into the trailer, which looked like the Titanic right before it went down. On impact, I flew over my handlebars, over Gert and skidded to a stop on the tarmac. Gert got up and hobbled off the highway, leaving our carnage sprawled across the N1. I hurriedly picked up his bottles and what was left of his shattered mirror, and joined him in the foetal position next to the side of the road. Gert was in pain and so was I.


Day seven was a relatively flat and boring day for us. We were in low spirits and not much conversation went on. A vicious headwind sprung up and pushed our average speed down to about 14 km/h, which was absolutey frustrating. By the time we reached Beaufort West, it was raining and we were cold. We stayed with friends and made big plans for the next day, but this was not to be.


The eighth day turned out to be an unplanned 'rest' day. The trailer's kick stand had started to scrape on the floor about 3 km out of Beaufort West, which meant something was broken. We noticed that the crack on the trailer arm, caused by the crash, had cracked some more and would break off if we didn’t do something about it. So we spent the day welding and hammering our bikes back into shape at a small antique bicycle shop in town.


We were back on the road early on day nine, but Gert was taking strain and appeared to be swerving a bit across the road. On closer inspection, I noticed he was struggling to stay awake. Droopy eyes and heavy legs forced us to stop at the next petrol station, where Gert rushed into the shop and returned with enough energy supplements to last most ADD kids a lifetime. 'Oh no, here we go,' I thought. ‘I’m going to need to be on my A game to stick with this energizer bunny!’


After downing a Monster, some Turbovites and an ‘Awake’ sachet, we set off and had covered another 40 km before, yes, you guessed it, another touring surprise. Ambulances and police vehicles flew past us, but when a pathology vehicle rushed by, I knew there was trouble. We must have passed more than 100 cars before we got to the wreck, which was ugly. A taxi had ploughed into a gold Fortuner, ripping both vehicles wide open, and it’s engine was lying about 100m in front of it. Bodies from the taxi were sprawled over the road, it was a horrific sight.


That evening, we reflected on the trip and how incredibly privileged we were, as well as how hard we had pushed our bodies. We also realised that this could indeed be the fastest unsupported trip across the country.


After riding through a terrible heat wave on day ten, we finally reached Worster. We took a few photos, spent the last of our money on some good seafood and went to watch a movie, but we kept dozing off. So we went in search of our accommodation, delighting in the cool, fresh Cape wind after a really hot day in the saddle.
We rolled into Cape Town on day eleven in record time. This was probably the windiest day ever in Cape Town, and it was as if nature was reminding us that it is never over until it’s over. In the last couple of kilometres before reaching the Waterfront, I started thinking about each cancer patient we were cycling for and every individual who wanted to give up the fight, and I made a commitment to never give up again in my life. Touring on a bicycle teaches you so much about what really matters in life; it teaches us how to appreciate an oversized shrub for shade in the scorching Karoo and how to savour a moment, food, sunrise or cooling headwind.


We completed our journey in less than two weeks and raised R42 000 for CANSA. Not a huge amount, but not too bad for two crazy guys on their bikes. Until next year's Cape Trek, happy cycling.


Issue 23 Mar '13