Words: Hanco Kachelhoffer, EAI Professional Cyclist ǀ Photos & Video: Altech Autopage Jozi2Kozi Cycle Challenge
The 2013 Altech Autopage Jozi2Kozi saw around 97 cyclists attempt the 700 km route, from the outskirts of Johannesburg to the coastal town of Kosi Bay, in just seven days. It was a truly African journey and took riders through some of the most beautiful routes South Africa has to offer.
Stage one started just outside Nigel, where we were welcomed by Zulu dancers gyrating to the sounds of vibrant singing and the beating of drums. Straight away I got a warm feeling and knew this ride would be special. Our focus was to 'ride' the 110 km route, enjoy the country and get involved with the communities we encountered along the way.
Rolling away from Nigel, the road was abuzz with enthusiastic and cheerful riders all ready for an adventure of a lifetime. The route was mostly flat, with the occasional climb rising out of the flatlands, and easy going. However, around the 70 km mark, the wind picked up considerably and we had battle through a fairly strong headwind. This slowed us down, but served to make sure that we had enough time to look around and appreciate the scenery. The finish was at the Standerton Boat Club, where we were later treated to a delicious braai and entertained by some of the characters along for the ride.
The first night in a tent is always one to remember, and it was no different here. We were woken up by the dancing and cheering of a very enthusiastic Zulu dancer at 4:55 a.m. for our 6 a.m. breakfast. He then went on to wish all riders an awesome day on the bike before retreating out of harm's way.
A short boat ride took us to the other side of the dam for the start of our 115km journey to Amersfoort. Luckily, Mother Nature looked kindly upon us and provided a tailwind that saw the front riders finishing just on four hours.
It had been a very fast but fun day two. That evening, we enjoyed some incredible local cooking, over which the day's stories were shared. The feeling of camaraderie amongst the riders, after just two days, was incredible. But there again, this is what cycling is about; meeting new people, seeing new places, and loving both the freedom and pleasure a bicycle can provide in such a great country.
We headed to the small and little-known German community called Luneburg. It is one of the oldest German communities in South Africa and a place most South Africans have never been to. The route was spectacular, taking us through farmlands, up a big climb, and along a fast and smooth decent into a plantation just outside Luneburg. This stage would make any mountain biker fall in love with the sport all over again.
An awards ceremony was held later that evening, after which we got to hear about the rich history of this German community. The rest of the evening was spent listening to the Germans sing, laughing, and enjoying the odd glass - or two - of Jägermeister.
The 100 km stage from Luneburg saw us pedalling over rocks, up climbs, across rivers, and rocketing along fast down hills, to finish off the day at the Ithala Game Reserve. To ride through a game reserve on your bicycle and see wildlife along the way makes any ride unforgettable. Almost too unforgettable, as only later did we find out that there were crocodiles in the last river we crossed, but were assured that they weren't close to where we passed and not very active at this time of year. Although this had been a hard day for many, with the hot weather and lots of ups and downs, it had been a great stage overall.
We woke early and readied ourselves for the 115 km route (2,500 m ascent). With the sun rising, we left the camp at 6:30 a.m. and within the first 5 km we saw three giraffe and plenty of other wildlife. Leaving the reserve behind, we continued towards Zululand, traversing the broken thorn veldt scattered with thatch kraals and herds of traditional Nguni Zulu cattle. The fantastic single track made this stage well worth the effort.
Our campsite was in a real Zulu 'kraal' and all the riders got to meet the Zulu King at the evening's prize-giving. Dinner that night consisted of a selection of meats to feast on, including pork, warthog, impala, and beef.
The penultimate stage of the Jozi2Kozi started with a neutral 20 km ride. We were then taken by bus to the top of a mountain range, transferred to the back of some sugar cane trucks and transported to the top of the 20 km ascent, and start of our ride to Lake Sibaya.
It was a fast and flat ride, but the sand towards the end made it almost impossible to get through. Thankfully, Andy, one of the race organisers, had arranged for some of the local ladies to cut grass and lay it across the last 2.8 km of single track, which made it so much easier for us. At the finish, we reached one of the most spectacular camping sites on the route. Huge grasslands surrounded the lake and hippos basking in the water made for a truly unforgettable day.
Woken up by the whistle-blowing Zulu, we knew the final day would not be easy because it consisted of lots of sand en route to Kosi Bay. Despite the tough going, we ended up having lots of fun and laughs as we ploughed our way through the thick sand.
At the final water point, all the riders regrouped and rode the final 20 km together. It was this kind of spirit that made the ride and event so special. We were as one, regardless of backgrounds. The last 20 km was on the smoothest tar you'll ever ride, a fitting end to this amazing event.
My past experience of tours has always been that I can't wait to finish it and get home. But, as this ride came to an end, I couldn't help thinking that I'll really miss the entire experience. The roads we rode, places we saw, and most of all the friendships we made over the past seven days. It was a small enough group of people to be personal, but big enough to care and make a difference along the way. I would love to do the ride again and hope many others will experience our beautiful country in this unique way.