Cycling south out of Beaufort West, South Africa, I knew I had a long stretch of road in front of me. It was more than 150 kilometers to Aberdeen, the next city of the map… and I knew that if the wind were blowing in the wrong direction, there was a lot of traffic, or I encountered any big hills, those 150 kilometers might take me as many as three days to complete. However, after only a few hours of cycling, I knew that I would be able to cover those 150 kilometers in no time.
After an hour and a half, I had covered 75 kilometers and I stopped for a short break at this remote rest stop in the middle of the highway. I grabbed an ice cream and a cold drink, and then jumped back on the bike, the wind entirely at my back.
After three hours and seven minutes, I crossed the 100 kilometer marker. I don’t think I have ever cycled such a long distance in such a short amount of time on any of my bicycle tours. I was absolutely flying… and I was having a blast!
Unfortunately, the road started to slowly turn to the east and my luck began to change. The wind was no longer pushing me as strongly as it had been earlier in the day… and it was getting dark. I needed to start looking for a place to spend the night.
I considered pushing all the way into Aberdeen and finding a hotel in the city for the evening, but I wanted to camp – not only because I enjoy camping, but also to save a little money.
So about 15-20 kilometers north of Aberdeen I turned left down a dirt road, pedaled about 1 kilometer up the road, and then jumped over a barbed wire fence with my bicycle and all of my belongings (which is not easy to do by the way).
Now completely out of view from any passing vehicles, I set up my tent behind a thorny bush that was just tall enough to cover the top of my tent.
With about an hour of sunlight remaining, I left my campsite for the evening and climbed up a nearby mountain, which was flat on the top and would have made for an incredible place to camp for the night. I considered camping at the top of the mountain, in fact, but decided against it because I knew just how difficult it would be to push my bicycle and all my gear up the rocky, thorn and (not to mention) steep hillside. I did, however, climb the mountain on foot and sat up at the top for quite some time as the sun began to set far off in the distance.
The next morning I woke up and found my campsite surrounded by grazing sheep. When I jumped that barbed wire fence the night before, I had jumped inside sheep grazing pastures. They seemed just as startled to see me as I was to see them.
After packing up my tent, jumping back over the barbed wire fence, and returning to the main road, I cycled for another hour or so before pulling into the tiny town of Aberdeen.
I had expected more from the city of Aberdeen. I though it was going to be a lot bigger. But the place was really, really small. There was one main center circle where there were hundreds of people just sitting in the street and doing nothing. As I pulled into the city’s main circle on my bicycle, I received a lot of attention – as you can imagine.
I located a small, busted up market and after locking my bicycle to a pole in front of the shop, I went inside to restock my food and drink supplies. I had origionally planned on staying in Aberdeen for the evening, but after only a few moments in town I knew I wanted to move on. I had only cycled about 20 kilometers thus far, it was still very early in the day, and I was mentally prepared for another day of camping in my tent. So I stocked up on food and water, returned to my bicycle, and then hit the road.
The wind that has been at my back the day before was now entirely at my city. The road had completely turned directions in Aberdeen, where before I had been heading south… now I was heading east.
My pace was a lot slower, but the scenery in this part of South Africa was much more interesting. Whereas on the N1 and the road that took me south out of Beaufort West the landscape had been almost entirely baron, this new road heading east toward Lesotho was much more “African.” There were trees and bushes… and the landscape had turned from brown to green.
Around 3 PM I decided to call it a day. I found another small dirt road to turn off on and took that for a short distance before finding an open gate that I was able to sneak into.
I followed a small, seldom-traveled red dirt road for about 1 kilometer before the road reached its end near the shores of a small river. This, I told myself, was one of the best camping spots I had been able to find in all of South Africa.
After exploring the area on foot and scouting around for any animals that might be in the area (and there were a lot of them – I could tell by the footprints, poo and noises nearby), I set up my tent in an open grassy area and climbed inside my tent just as it began to rain.
The rain didn’t last long. When it stopped, I unzipped my tent and stepped outside. It was nearly pitch black… and that’s when I heard a loud roar!
I nearly had a panic attack when I heard the noise. I was sure there was a lion, hyena or some other dangerous animal in the vicinity… and they had obviously seen me. But when I looked around, I didn’t see a lion, hyena or even a cheetah. instead, I saw a small cluster of antelope… and they were roaring at me. Obviously I had startled them. Until that point, however, I had no idea that antelope roared… but apparently they do!
The next morning I received some bad news from home. Using the USB Internet stick that I purchased in Cape Town, I checked my email and found an message from the couple who were scheduled to move into my condo back home and rent the place for the entire next year so that I could continue traveling. The couple informed me that the husband had essentially lost his job and that they would no longer be moving into the condo as they had planned.
This was horrible news… and it set off a series of chain reactions for me personally, that ultimately ruined much of my experience in South Africa.
You see, these people were supposed to rent my condo back home in Park City, Utah so that I would no longer have to pay the $1,000 USD per month that it costs me to own that condo. Without them in the condo, I would have to pay the $1,000 in expenses each month – on top of whatever money I might be spending on my travels.
Normally, them cancelling on me wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Given a little notice, I could easily find another renter. But this couple had canceled on me one week before they were supposed to move in. And they had canceled on my while I was in South Africa, very far away from home, and very far away from an Internet connection where I could do much about re-listing my property for rent. This young couple that promised to rent my condominium and then bailed at the last minute, had totally fucked up my plans… and I was finding out about it while I was all alone in the middle of South Africa. Not fun! It was a horrible way to start the day.
There was nothing I could do about it at the moment though. I’d have to continue moving forward and just hope that I could find some place up the road where I could access the Internet, re-list my property, and do some damage control on this property rental gone wrong. Even though I was being extremely rational about the situation, I was boiling inside. I hate it when other people ruin my plans. I absolutely hate it.
I also hate getting flat tires in the cold. And it was extremely cold on this particular day.
I got one flat tire by running over a giant thorn… and about an hour later got another flat tire when my rear tube decided to malfunction for no apparent reason.
I moved slowly repairing both flats. I was not in a good mood. But I’ve been in similar situations before. The trick is to not think about all that stuff that is bothering you and to simply keeping moving forward. That’s what I love about bicycle touring sometimes. Sometimes all you have to do is put your head down… and keep moving forward. That’s all you have to do.
I don’t remember much about that day. I was mentally not there. Instead, my head was back home, thinking about how I was going to be able to find a new renter for my condo, how I was going to deal with the money these canceled renters had already sent me, and when I would have a chance to re-list my condo on the Internet and answer any inquires I might receive.
At some point that afternoon I cycled to the base of a large mountain pass. It was freezing cold, I was upset, and I was in no mood to climb at that particular moment. If I could have quit the bicycle tour at that point, I would have. I was really not doing well.
Instead, I pushed my bicycle off the road and hit it behind a large mound of dirt that separated the road from a nearby fence… and it was here that I set up my camp for evening. This would turn out to be not only the coldest night of my entire bike tour in South Africa, but it was also just one of only two nights when I would not have to jump a fence in order to camp for the evening.
In the photo above you can see how my tent is kind of hidden from the roadside by that large mound of dirt on the right-hand side of the photo. The road is directly on the other side of that mound. With my tent in this position, I could hear cars and trucks driving past, but I couldn’t see them… and more importantly, they couldn’t see me.
It was so cold that night, I used two T-shirts wrapped around my head to try and keep me warm. In addition to the material wrapped around my head, I was wearing every other piece of clothing I had with me… and I was still freezing cold.
When the sun finally came out in the morning, I packed up my tent and turned off my brain in preparation for the long, cold climb to the top of the pass I had slept under that night.
On the side of the road were small blocks of ice… and a few sprinkles of snow. That’s how cold it was!
At the top of the pass I paused to take a photo of myself. The scenery was superb, and it looks quite warm in the photo, but it was windy, cold and miserable. Still in a bad mood from the news I had received the day before, I tried not to do much thinking. I reached the top of the hill and then shot down the other side, relieved to discover that it was much warmer on the other side of the mountain.
I was in a bad mood and I knew that I couldn’t handle another cold night in the tent, so my goal for the day was to make it to Middelburg. On my map, Middelburg looked like a very tiny town. It might not even be a town at all, I thought to myself. But when I finally reached the city I was relieved to see that the place was much bigger that my map had led me to believe.
In order to get to the center of town, however, I first had to cycle past a number of wild donkeys.
Then I had to cycle directly through the center of a large township. As you can imagine, my bicycle and I received a lot of attention.
Then, finally, I rolled into the city center and was faced with the task of finding a place to spend the night.
I ended up finding a small B&B that was run by a young man around my same age (30). He also seemed to be running a computer, printing, and Internet store in a neighboring building. I paid 500 Rand for two nights in the B&B and was shown to my room.
Over the next two days I did very little. I walked around the tiny town of Middelburg. Ate pizza at the local gas station-style take-away shop, and spent an afternoon walking through the local township.
People in Cape Town made the townships in South Africa sound like the most dangerous places on earth. But I had a good feeling about the township in Middelburg, so during my second day in the city I walked through the center of the township on foot, with my camera and my backpack in tow.
A lot of the people in the township would give me weird looks, but most would just wave and say hello. Some even thought I might be some kind of inspector.
When I pulled out my camera in front of a group of five young girls, four of them went running off in the opposite direction – afraid for their lives. I think they thought that my large SLR camera was a gun. One of the girls, however (the girl in the photo below), knew exactly what was going on. She wasn’t afraid at all. She came right up to me, struck a pose, and I pulled the trigger. It’s one of my favorite moments/photos from my entire time in South Africa.
Shortly thereafter I was bombarded with young kids wanted to get their picture taken. I would wake their photo, they’d want to see it on the camera’s LCD screen, and then they’d want to have another picture taken, this time with them and one of their friends who had just joined the mass of crazy youngsters. This happened multiple times in a short period of time, until I soon had 20 or more kids jumping in front of my camera and trying to see their picture on the my LCD screen.
When the group of kids wanting photos became too rowdy, one of the older children came up to me and said in a very authoritative voice, “GO NOW!”
I didn’t question him for a second. I was getting a lot of attention at this point from not only the children, but the adults in the area as well. I didn’t want to cause a major scene, so I grabbed my camera, put it back inside my backpack and walked out of the township.
After two nights in Middelburg I hit the road again. I was in better spirits after receiving that negative news from back home, but I was still somewhat upset about the situation. I did, however, try to forget about it once I got back on my bike.
After another full day of cycling, I jumped another barbed wire fence and pitched my tent inside yet another area set aside for grazing sheep. I pitched my tent just a short distance from the road, but far enough away that no passing cars could see me.
I was treated to a spectacular sunset that evening, but I didn’t sleep very well – partially because my mind was still focused on my renters bailing on me at the last moment, and partially because the 100+ sheep in the area kept working their way toward my tent.
Have you ever heard what it sounds like when 100+ sheep are eating grass out of the same ground that you are sleeping on? The same ground that your head is pressed against while you are sleeping? The munching sound that those sheep produce is incredibly loud! It’s kind of amazing!
When I woke the next morning I was excited. I knew that if I pushed hard, I could make it to the next town that night… and if I was lucky, they’d have a hotel for me to sleep in for the night. I was still very upset about the situation with my condo, so I wanted nothing more than to get inside, maybe even access the Internet and do some work on my businesses, and try to relax. If I could take a shower, that would be nice as well!
The day was long, but it was pleasant. The most memorable part of the day was cycling between the two large mountains/mesas that you see in the photo below. If I had had the time, I would have loved to have climbed up to the top of one or both of those mountain peaks.
By mid-afternoon, I had reached my destination. I cycled into the tiny town of Burgersdorp, South Africa, found myself a hotel (the one and only hotel in town) and called it a night. Burgersdorp, as it would turn out, would be my home for the next five nights.