Day 12 – Forget Freddy Krueger and Elm Street – the real nightmare is cycling on the N3 outside Harrismith in the early morning mist. I only started cycling at 6.15am, once it was properly light, but the wisdom of this decision was negated to some extent by the thickness of the mist. The limited visibility encouraged many of the heavy trucks to move over onto the shoulder of the road. Just where I was riding. Concealed by the mist until they were almost at my back wheel.
For the very first time it was actually cold when we got up. It warmed up later, but never really got hot during the course of the ride. What a relief! What a pleasure to escape eight days of sweltering heat, to feel the need to don long sleeves!
On leaving Harrismith the N3 leads through an impressive sandstone massif, that looms over the road on both sides. After 20 kilometres we passed the village of Swinburne, and another 10 kilometres or so brought us to the settlement of Van Reenen. Van Reenen stands at the summit of the Van Reenen Pass, and at 1680 metres above sea level may be the highest point on our route.
Thankfully the mist had cleared by the time we reached Van Reenen Pass which gave motorists more time to see me and allowed me to enjoy the spectacular views. At the top of the pass we crossed into KwaZulu Natal, the last of the provinces to be traversed before reaching the Indian Ocean. Downhill it may be, but this Pass is not easy riding because of the traffic. Heavy trucks travelling very slowly – I had to pass some of them on the left because the fast moving traffic in the right lane allowed no space for a bicycle. Somewhat hair-raising. Fourteen kilometres of steep downhill. I reached 74kph at one point, the highest speed reached on the trip, but generally a lot of braking and much slower speeds were required.
The road drops 580 metres from Windy Corner at the top of the pass to the bottom, and follows the route originally blazed by herds of wildebeest, zebra and other game animals migrating between the midlands of KwaZulu Natal and the highveld. The original road was built in 1856 and the present N3 follows much the same route down the escarpment.
Shortly after reaching the foot of the Van Reenen Pass we turned off the N3 and onto the quieter R103 which took us to Ladysmith, which we had planned as an overnight stop. We felt that it was too early to stop when we reached Ladysmith and after a brief consultation we decided to go a little further.
Avril made some phone calls and located a suitable place for us to stop for the night. I eventually stopped riding at the junction of the N11 and the R602, which, although not as far as I had hoped to get, was convenient to the B&B that Avril had located.
We loaded up the bike and drove up the N11 to the B&B, which was a farm situated on the banks of the Sundays River.