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Words & Photos: Ugene Nel

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a new mountain biking adventure • 1

About three months ago, I hit upon the idea of introducing an adventure ride across the Northern Cape, from Upington to Matjiesfontein, which would take five days and cover a distance of 620 km. I’d chosen

this route because of the remoteness and vast sense of space. So I set off on a recce ride just over a month ago, and it was everything I had hoped for and more.

Boarding an overnight bus from Cape Town to Upington, I arrived in Upington the next morning at 10h00 and promptly set to work putting my mountain bike together. As there was no open space nearby, this all happened opposite the bus stop and attracted plenty of attention. As more and more people gathered around me, one chap, who had been on the same bus as me, asked me where I was riding too. When I responded Cape Town, he frowned and said, "But you've just come from there!”

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Day 1

Upington to Kenhardt, 116 km It was with a sigh of relief when I left the crowd behind and pedalled across the Orange River shortly after 11h00, cruising along a quiet district road. I was on my way to the first stop, Kenhardt and the tranquility and sense of space was immediate. In fact, I only saw one sheepherder the entire day! But what I did see a lot of over the next three days was numerous bustards and korhaan birds, and weaver nests draped from the Telkom lines for long stretches at a time. During a stop next to one of the pylons, I observed hundreds of these little birds busy at work, all the while keeping an eye out for any Cape cobras. Fortunately, the weather is mild in winter and I did not see any cobras, which have a hankering for the weaver’s eggs. I arrived in Kenhardt at sunset, having ridden 116 km, had a huge dinner and then headed for bed.

Day 2

Kenhardt to Willeston, 254 km I set off early with the intention of riding to Brandvlei, about 160 km away. I chose to ride on the smaller district roads again and after approximately 70 km, I took the turn off to Verneukpan, I remembered reading a story about Sir Malcolm Campbell, who attempted a world speed record on the pan in 1929, in his Napier-Campbell Blue Bird. Unfortunately, he failed to break the record. Intrigued, I decided to veer off my intended route and go check it out and perhaps set up my own MTB world speed record. Verneukpan is a completely flat dry salt pan and temperatures above 40°C are not uncommon. Following a 17 km jeep track, the ride across this vast open area was just phenomenal! I had a go at riding as fast as I could and reached a speed of 51.3 km, carrying a 14 kg backpack. As my ride was unsupported and I was unsure of where to find more supplies, I had to carry more food and water than usual.

After an hour of fun in Verneukpan, I set off once more, with the goal of finding somewhere to sleep that night. Brandvlei was no longer an option as I was too far off my intended route. The next stop after Brandvlei was Willeston, but I had planned to stay there the following night. By 18h00, the sun was starting to set and although I’d ridden 170 km, there was still no sign of civilisation. The map showed that Willeston was about 80 km away and now my best hope of finding a place to sleep and replenish my fast dwindling food supplies, which were down to a packet of chips and a packet of nuts. Fortunately, water was not a problem as I’d refilled at numerous windmills along the way.

Five long hours later, and a total of 254 km for the day, I pedalled into the town of Willeston - cold and

with a hunger the size of an oil tanker! Finding a place to sleep at that hour proved challenging, but after numerous attempts, the Willeston B&B took me in. They were great and plied me with hot tea and home-made rusks - perfect! 

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biking advent in a nt u o m a new

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Day 3

Day 4

After an enormous breakfast and some bike maintenance, I headed out at around 10h00 for Sutherland. The landscape started to change and as the terrain became more mountainous, the temperature dropped, but made for perfect riding. I stopped frequently and my MRS stove came in handy to brew some coffee. My lunch, courtesy of the B&B, was fantastic and their fresh, home-baked bread reminded me of the warm hospitality I’d received there.

After a good night’s sleep, I took the district roads to Matjiesfontein, via the Komsberg Pass (1,791 m). The terrain changed once more, especially after dropping down into the Moordernaars Karoo from the Roggeveld Plateau. Unbeknown to me at the time, it had started snowing in Sutherland shortly after I’d left that morning.

Willeston to Sutherland, 140 km

Entering Sutherland, the town was bathed in the golden light of the setting sun, and the night air was chilly on my warm skin. I’d ridden


140 km and wearily made my way to The White House, a very cool backpacker located on the main road.


a new mountain biking adventure

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Sutherland to Matjiesfontein, 118 km

Matjiesfontein welcomed me in the late afternoon, having covered 118 km. This is a magical place and many stories have been written about this historical town. Nothing has changed here and it's like stepping back in time. The food is awesome and the experience second to none!

After four days of riding and 620 km, my recce had come to an end. It had been hard, but so rewarding and with that extra special X factor, hence the event’s name.

So come join me on the inaugural The X, from 10 to 14 September 2103, and experience the majesty of the Northern Cape and pure mountain bike bliss. •

FAST FACTS: • The event is limited to 25 riders • From 10 to 14 September 2013 (five days) • From Upington to Matjiesfontein • A total distance of 620 km • Total altitude gain of 3,660 m • The route follows remote district roads, with little to no traffic • Entry free R4,980pp


• 620 km of soul-charging riding in a remote part of the Northern Cape • Transport of your overnight crates between overnight stops • Maps, narratives, and GPX track files. • Solitude • A ‘The X’ branded fleece top • Dinner, bed, and breakfast, as well as a lunch pack at all overnight stops • Beer, wine, and soft drinks at Verneukpan are on us! • Matjiesfontein guided bus tour in an old, red London bus • A new ‘You’ afterwards!


Tuesday, 10 September - Upington to Kenhardt • Day 1 - 116 km • Total ascent - 673 m • Depart 09h30 - venue to be confirmed • Lunch packs and dinner included

Wednesday, 11 September - Kenhardt to Verneukpan • Day 2 - 80 km • Total ascent - 418 m • Breakfast at 07h00 • Depart at 08h00 • There will also be a ‘land speed’ record attempt on your MTB on the same pan that Campbell attempted his on in 1929. The current MTB record stands at 51.3 km, set by yours truly - beat that! • Dinner, bed, breakfast, and a lunch pack included. Thursday, 12 September - Verneukpan to Willeston • Day 3 - 168 km • Total ascent - 828 m • Breakfast at 07h00 • Depart at 07h30 • Dinner (braai packs provided), bed, breakfast, and a lunch pack included. Stay over/camping in Verneukpan. Friday, 13 September - Willeston to Sutherland • Day 4 - 140 km • Total ascent - 1,068 m • Breakfast at 07h30 • Depart 08h00 • Dinner, bed, breakfast, and a lunch pack is included Saturday, 14 September - Sutherland to Matjiesfontein • Day 5 - 118 km • Total ascent - 1,250 m • Breakfast from 07h00 and at your leisure • Depart 09h00 • Dinner, bed, and breakfast is included • There’s a guided Matjiesfontein bus tour at 08h30 for those who want to learn more about this fascinating town. It’s unique and a bit like being inside a John Cleese/Mr Bean movie. For more about this not-to-be-missed new adventure ride, visit • 7

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MOUNTAIN BIKING: The X - a new mountain biking adventure  
MOUNTAIN BIKING: The X - a new mountain biking adventure  

DO IT NOW Magazine, Bicycling. About three months ago, I hit upon the idea of introducing an adventure ride across the Northern Cape, from U...