We started our 1000km cycle trip in the small and dry city of Upington, which is situated on the banks of the Orange River. It was here we left the security of our vehicle and had nothing but our bicycles and legs to transport us. We also met up with the rest of the crew: Xavier Briel, the other cyclist and trip photographer, a very friendly and awesome guy; Davey du Plessis, one of the runners and the man behind the whole idea of Project 1000 and Jabu Tjeko, the other runner and an inspirational and all round amazing person. Pete and I were feeling nervous, but rather excited as well. We had trained a little, but hadn’t yet cycled over 30km’s in a day.
We left early the next morning before sunrise and it was an exhilarating couple of hours. Looking ahead to the open road with the sound and rush of cars speeding close past us, feeling the cold morning wind brush by face and tear up my eyes and watching the sun slowly appear from behind us… It was a feeling of freedom, a feeling of being connected to my surroundings in a way I’m not that used to; a feeling of utter adventure. We had a whole 3 weeks of this to look forward to.
The first week or so of the trip was spent cycling on mostly flat roads in intense heat with very dry, desert landscape all around us, with very little water available. We had to plan where we would try cycle to so we could aim for a farm or a town where we could camp on their land and possibly fill up our water bottles. Farms were few and far between which meant that on some days we only needed to cycle 30 – 40km’s to the next farm or town, whereas other days we had to cycle 50 – 80km’s. I was very pleasantly surprised at how friendly and hospitable most of the farmers were to us. We got to meet some interesting and amazing characters. The campsites we found were also amazing, often giving us free or discounted rates to help us out. Most of the towns we came across were very small and had very little to offer in terms of supplies like fresh fruit and vegetables, but had little bits of their own charm; places like Kakamas, Keimoes, Springbok, Kamieskroon and Pofadder. It made us realise how there really are such a thing as food deserts, where fresh food is hard to come by, especially for those less financially fortunate. One lady told us that she only eats meat and bread. Consider that most people often have to drive over 100km to get fresh fruit or veggies. Luckily, being the experienced vegans we are, we were mostly well stocked up on grains, nuts, fruit, peanut butter and a few other important goods. Pete and I took good coffee and our Aeropress along too as this was the one luxury we allowed ourselves.
We followed the Orange River and eventually crossed it where we saw some beautiful bird life and some greenery for a change. We tried to rise early and get most of the cycling over with before it got too hot out. Some days, I felt so tired and unmotivated to spend the day on a bike yet again. Some of us would get puncture after puncture and would spend half the day on the side of the road fixing the bloody things.
The days felt long as the cycling was slow, but it was always something special to not only see the landscape around me change, but to feel it change too. From flat barren desert to rocky, mountainous land. Some days I would be a lot slower than the others and would find myself speeding downhill with no one around me. I was completely alone, just me and my bike as one, and I felt alright, happy. Other days I would get super despondent, feeling hot and exhausted, my legs ready to give in, flies landing on my face every three seconds and all I wanted to do was shower and sleep.
As our Afrikaans really isn’t up to scratch, we were lucky to have Xavier a.k.a. “The Fixer” on the trip. He would speak to most of the Afrikaans farmers and sort out a place for us to stay on their land. Without him, I think things may have been a lot more awkward.
One of our favourite wild camping nights was on a sheep farm about 40km from Pofadder where we once again tried our luck at the gate, getting Xavier to call the number and ask if we could camp there. The farmer was the nicest, sweetest guy. He welcomed us onto his farm, gave us a ground mat, water and firewood to make a fire. Pieter was one of those people you are happy to have met, breaking any stereotypes you may have had of just what a farmer in the Northern Cape is like. He even had a little sanctuary for the disabled and neglected sheep where they could have a happy life, very unlike most farmers who would most likely kill them as they would use up “unnecessary” time and resources. They even had names and followed him around. His dogs too were very loveable and completely loyal (dogs know a good human). As a vegan, this stuck out to me, as I did not expect this kindness and compassionate behaviour from a farmer. It is difficult because it is obviously morally inconsistent to love some animals and eat others, but maybe one day he will draw that connection. It is hard to get someone to see something when their livelihood depends on them not seeing it. He gave us breakfast in his neat little home the next morning and took a photo of us before we left.
Although there were hot, tiring days where my butt was sore and my body ached, the nights were often icy cold and we couldn’t always shower to get warm, we were really enjoying the simplicity of our lives. We would wake watching the beauty of the sunrise whilst sipping coffee in the cold air. We would cycle a whole lot on the open road, eat picnic lunches on the side of the highway, stop to take a photo or look at a tortoise (we saw a Speckled Dwarf Padloper!) and deal with the small challenges the day had to offer us. And, at night, we would appreciate the total epicness of the milky way as bright and beautiful as we had never seen it before. These simple pleasures made life worth the ride.
Xavier is making a series of short videos from the trip. Here’s episode one:
Words and photos by Cara.
Video by Xavier Briel.