Middelburg - The tenth step ... SISA Episode II - CycleBlaze

March 19, 2021

Middelburg

We had planned to spend Saturday night with a Warmshowers host in Middelburg but we got a call on Wednesday evening to say he had to be out of town.  It was a real pity because he is by all accounts a great character and well travelled.  He has done a number of cycling tours through South Africa and has ridden from Middelburg to Istanbul by on his own by motor cycle.  He is also incredibly big-hearted.  Because he knew he couldn't host us, he had generously booked us in a a local guesthouse.

The plan was to spend tonight at a guest farm halfway to Middelburg but they wouldn't accept a booking for just two people.  A glance at the weather forecast suggested Saturday would present us with head winds and rain.  So we decided to head all the way to Middelburg today.  It would involve over a thousand meters of climbing over ninety kilometers but almost all of the climbing was in the first half with a good downhill into Middelburg.  There would be three climbs, the first two on gravel and the last to the top of the Lootsberg Pass on the N9, the main road northwards.

Nieu Bethesda was still shaded from the rising sun by the mountains when we climbed on our bicycles this morning and it stayed cool for the first few hours of the ride.  It never got too warm throughout the day and the wind was mostly on our side. 

Looking back over the town as we tackled the first climb.
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The Kompasberg in the distance. It clouded over and was mostly hidden throughout the ride.
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We encountered masses of dead Brown Locusts (Locustana pardalina) on the road. Locust outbreaks are common throughout southern Africa and can devastate grazing so farmers try and control them the hopper stage by spraying with an insecticide. One unintended effect of controlling locust outbreaks is the removal of prey animals for Praticoles. Up until the previous century flocks of Black-winged Pratincoles (Glareola nordmanni) used to occur in flocks apparently in their millions following the locust outbreaks but nowadays with the control of the locusts there are only occasional sightings of flocks of a few thousand birds. We have personally only seem them in small numbers of less than fifty birds.
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Kompasberg hiding in the clouds.
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The first twenty eight kilometers was on a reasonably good gravel road almost devoid of traffic. There were two climbs on this section, the first pretty steep but only ascending a hundred and fifty meters while the second was a gentler climb of three hundred meters. It was wonderfully calm, if not a bit strenuous, morning.
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Knipophia species.
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At the top of the second climb. The Kompasberg visible again. The views today were wonderful.
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About to head down to the N9, about nine kilometers away.
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Just before the N9 we stopped and enjoyed an early lunch.  The twenty nine kilometers from Nieu Bethesda had been hard but thoroughly enjoyable.  From here to the top of the Lootsberg Pass would be another fifteen kilometers.  Thankfully there was a good shoulder so we could ride without worrying about the traffic.  So far on this trip the drivers have been mostly very considerate and a special mention needs to be made of the heavy goods vehicles who are always very careful when passing us.  Today's traffic was also very friendly and we spent a lot of time returning friendly waves.

A porcupine seems to have come in contact with a motor vehicle. Quills were strewn across the road.
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The start of the pass.
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Not a sign that is often seen in South Africa. The only time I have witnessed falling snow in South Africa was on this pass back in 1999 when Leigh and I were returning from a two month meander through southern Africa in out Landy.
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Halfway up.
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The view from the top.
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We paced ourselves carefully today and it took almost seven hours to get to the top of the pass, only forty five kilometers of riding.  The second half of the ride down into Middelburg took barely two hours and we cruised into town feeling pleasantly fatigued soon after four in the afternoon.

Arriving a day early, we decided to stay at the same place Willie had booked us into.  I phoned ahead and arranged things so all we had to do on our arrival in Middelburg was to pick up a few cold beers from the local bottle store.  Supper had already been arranged with our digs so we were able to put our feet up and relax once we got there.

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Today's ride: 90 km (56 miles)
Total: 446 km (277 miles)

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