The gruelling task of pushing our loaded bicycles up mountain pass after mountain pass left my cycle-virgin thighs trembling and sore. Despite the chilly autumn winds of the Mountain Kingdom, sweat dripped off my nose and chin and I feared my racing heart might beat right out of my chest. But I couldn’t stop, I was following adventurer Sean Fraenkel (Visit Sean’s Barking Mad website) and he set the pace. While I was an untrained amateur cyclist, Sean had already been cycling for over a month on the Spine of the Dragon, South Africa’s premier cross-country mountain biking route, as part of his Barking Mad campaign, an unsupported cycle across South Africa and Lesotho with his two dogs for charity. Sean had generously agreed to let me tag along for a leg in Lesotho, to learn some tricks of the cycling trade, assuming I could keep up.
Sean would map out our next day’s route each night, nonchalantly proposing some 70 km route through several mountain passes and I would try my best to conceal my anxiety behind a quart of Maluti beer. But it was too late now. By stuffing myself and my trusty bike into a minibus taxi halfway across Lesotho and meeting up with Sean I’d taken my daydreams of becoming some cycle adventurer, like Dervla Murphy or Riaan Manser, into my own hands. The fantasizing was over, now it was time to step up and become the adventurer I’d always dreamt of. Never mind my lethargic tendencies, I was going to finish with the big boys, whether or not it killed me.
Sean was encouraging and promised he would be ‘super slow’ with the 60 kg of weight he was pulling in a trailer with his two Jack Russell’s – an unconventional addition to the average touring cyclist. However, Tequila and Turbo kept the morale high as they had unlimited energy and made us instant celebrities to each new community of shepherds and passing taxis.
The beauty of rural Lesotho made it easy to forget the pain and physical exhaustion. Cycling here means an intimate encounter into the miraculous Maluti and Drakensberg Mountain ranges. Lesotho seems like a land lost in time, as you cycle past flocks of sheep and goats followed by their shepherds clad in traditional wool blankets and their faithful herd dogs. The Basotho women, warriors of their own sort, walk past in lines from the fields carrying their days work on their heads. Horses and donkeys, not bicycles, are the preferred method of transport here as the climbs are intense and the terrain of unpaved mountain roads ideal only for a four-footed beast.
- Riding the Dragon’s Spine by David Bristow, Steve Thomas
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