Impressions of a first time rider

Gary Kroukamp had heard a number of things about the Karoo to Coast. It was long, it was boring, it was in effect a road race off road with no single track, terrible corrugations, the logistics of getting to the start and away from the finish were difficult. Some of these were true and some were not, which was which? He found out at the 2013 Karoo to Coast and here is his story 

My main reasons for entering the Karoo to Coast was that I was going to be staying in Plett anyway, for the school holidays, and this was a good opportunity to get some enforced

Karoo to Coast
Karoo to Coast

distance in the legs in preparation for Wine2Whales in November. (By the way, can we move away from the whole X2X format of naming races? – it’s been done to death.)

I was up at 04:30 in the morning and it was bitterly cold. The car thermometer flirted with zero degrees on the two hour drive to the start, bottoming out at one before rising to four degrees at Uniondale. We registered with no fuss and made our way to the start chutes. Fortunately I hadn’t ordered an event top, a garish neon lime green…

I was surprised by the sheer number of MTBers, apparently 4 000 of us started. The start takes you on a loop around the town on tar, and then onto an old gravel wagon trail which winds inexorably upwards for 10km amidst cries of “Hou bene, hou!” from enthusiastic local supporters. As this is soon after the start, the trail is fairly thick with riders and the climb therefore proceeds fairly sedately. This suited me, as my plan had been all about pacing myself for the 100km and starting slowly was crucial, along with stopping regularly at water points and feeding stations.

A short tricky downhill section led onto the start of the Prince Alfred pass gravel road and the second of the five major climbs. Being a road, the gradients were not as steep as some MTB climbs can be, and I found the climbing relatively comfortable. The payoff was a welcome 14km fast descent, of course followed by more climbing, and then a shorter descent into a gorge with sheer rock faces on either side, and bridges crisscrossing the river in a marvel of 19th century engineering, the pass having been built by the indefatigable and ubiquitous Thomas Bain, in the 1860s. I had driven along the pass before and had speculated how much fun it would be to fly down on a mountain bike. The answer – more fun than the car!

We were spat out of this section at Avontuur and then a rather boring section of about 20km ensued (with an ambulance going the other way leading me to suspect that not all  riders had handled the descent unscathed), until we finally entered the Knysna Forest. Riding is always fun into the depths of indigenous stuff.

The descent down to a reservoir was quite hairy with some tight concreted turns and nasty potential consequences of disappearing into space if you got them wrong. The Eden Lions feeding station just before had featured lots of salty potatoes and some superb banana bread. I capitalised on these to good effect later on, as the last 3 km climb from the reservoir up to Simola is a stinker of note. Fortunately I still had some legs and knowing that there were no further climbs in offing I gave it some stick to the top.


From there on there was a descent down the tar road of Simola hill and the turn into town with food and drink waiting at the finish.

All in all, a most worthwhile race to do. So was it long – yes. Boring
– surprisingly no – the scenery is magnificent and there are enough tricky gravel road descents and forestry roads to distract one from the lack of single track. I had no problems with corrugations – perhaps the road had been recently graded. Logistics for transport to the start are tricky, so you have to have to bribe a friend or significant other to drive the two hours to the start and do a pick up at the finish. Apparently there is a shuttle from Knysna the  day before with a camping option at Uniondale but that option and any other accommodation fill up fast and those campers looked damned cold in the morning!

So the Karoo to Coast, that grand old dame of mountain biking, makes no pretence of being what it isn’t. There isn’t so much as a token bit of singletrack. Nevertheless, its length provides the challenge and the scenery and camaraderie are top notch. Do it.

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