Day 14 – The weather was really miserable when we awoke at 5am, by far the most miserable of the trip. We left Eagle’s View just 45 minutes later, with the wind already fairly strong and the dark clouds overhead threatening in the early morning light. Our intention was to drive directly to the spot where I had stopped cycling the day before. Right. We overshot our marker completely and had to backtrack. Just how do two people miss a signboard for which they are both looking, when they have a very good idea of where it is?
It started to rain as we offloaded the bike at 6.30am and the wind was bitterly cold.
The ups and downs to Babanango and then on until we had covered half the distance to Melmoth seemed endless. One uphill in particular, called Haveman’s Hoogte, just went on and on. I was in the lowest possible gear and it was still an absolute grind. Four heavily laden timber trucks, each with a heavily laden trailer were stopped on this hill – the truck in front appeared to have broken down – and this provided a slight distraction as I weaved past them. Near the top of Haveman’s Hoogte, while standing up to bring maximum weight to bear on the pedals and so slightly off balance, I rode onto a very slippery patch of oil soaked tar. You’ve seen what happens when a Formula One racing car hits a patch of oil at 240kph? Well, this was nothing like that. At 12 or 15kph the wheels slid, my feet shot off the pedals in anticipation of a fall, the bike went one way, my blood pressure went another and before you could shout “Oily patch!” the oily patch was behind me. And I still wasn’t at the top of the hill.
The potholes along this stretch, most noticeably between Babanango and Melmoth, as well as the corrugations in the tar caused by the heavy trucks, made riding thoroughly uncomfortable at times. It was not possible to hug the left curb, as I had done for most of the ride, and I was forced to duel with the cars and trucks for the more ridable surface towards the middle of the road. In truth a bicycle versus a ten-ton truck does not make for a fair duel.
Melmoth is situated in an area of hills that are ideal for the growing of trees, particularly wattle, and in 1926 a factory was established here for the production of tanning extract from locally grown wattle bark. I can’t vouch for the suitability of the soil, but I can certainly vouch for the presence of the hills. Past Melmoth, and on I rode.
It was really a moment to savour when we saw the first Richards Bay road sign (the port was 64km away) and I briefly entertained the idea of pushing on to the end. Just 10km further on, however, Avril had discovered the Mfuli Game Ranch and we decided to stop there for the night. It was nicely positioned, with just a few hours of cycling left to take us to the Indian Ocean.
We spent a very pleasant evening on the wooden deck of the reception area with a couple of beers as the sun went down, and could have been a million miles from civilisation. Inside the bar there was a scramble to watch the Formula One Grand Prix being broadcast on TV, but it seemed weirdly divorced from cycling through the hills of the Babanango district. We stayed outside and basked in the notion that the trip was almost done.