10 April 2011
Kevin Davie, a 50-something award-winning journalist with the Mail & Guardian, is just over a week into a ride that is not for the faint-hearted: he’s cycling from Beit Bridge on the Zimbabwe border to Cape Point on Africa’s southern tip, most of it off-road, which adds up to a distance of almost 4 000 kilometres.
“It’s trail riding,” explains Davie, who then talks about the Freedom Trail as an example of this. Established in 2003, South Africa’s Freedom Trail covers 2 300 kilometres, from Pietermaritzburg in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands to Paarl in the Western Cape.
It takes in some spectacular regions of South Africa, most of which are off the beaten path. It’s a route that Davie has ridden. It is also much like the trail Davie is undertaking, a route he calls “the ganna”, which, in fact, includes vast parts of the Freedom Trail.
He chose the name after holidaying near Gannaland, the Karoo farm made famous by Olive Schreiner in her Story of an African Farm.
Davie, however, says his journey is more like the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route that follows the Rockey Mountains from Banff in Alberta, Canada to Antelope Wells in New Mexico, USA, covering a distance of just over 4 400 kilometres.
On the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, the idea is to keep the percentage of tarred roads to below 20%. Davie’s aim on “the ganna” is to keep it below 10%.
“It’s about getting away from organised racing,” says Davie. “It’s about learning about the country, culture and geology.
“While it is like the Rockeys, ‘the ganna’ has far greater diversity and biodiversity,” Davie explains with a sense of wonderment in his voice. “Have you looked at the photo of the Bewaarkloof on the blog [gannagreatride.wordpress.com]?” he asks.
I have, and with a little imagination (it’s requires a little not being there) I get a sense of why he is so blown away by the countryside. It’s an expression he uses more than once: “blown away”.
He explains how he is living along the way. “It’s a self-contained style of riding, no support, a bivvy tent, and a sleeping bag.”
He continues: “People relate to you in a different way when you’re alone. They see your vulnerability and reach out. You take whatever is thrown at you.”
I was curious about how he was progressing, because his stated aim was to cover 130 kilometres a day, a figure, I told him, I thought was optimistic. “I’m nowhere near that,” admitted Davie, adding that he had covered about 700 kilometres in seven days.
There have also frequently been times when he has been forced to walk. At its worst, he recalled covering only 10 kilometres in five hours in tough, thorny conditions. And some of these areas he had previously visited! They have changed remarkably with the seasons.
Davie hasn’t been alone throughout his trip. He has been joined by mountain bikers, some of whom have heard of his ride through word of mouth.
When he set out, he carried a backpack and his kit weighed in at 9.5 kilograms, which included food and a cooker. The cooker, along with noodles, are no longer a part of his gear. He has got rid of them. “It’s about a third lighter,” he said of his kit, before explaining how he is eating along the route.
It’s hardly romantic, but it is working; “Coke,” says Davie, “is full of sugar,” and that has become an important part of his diet. Sometimes he orders a meal or eats a hamburger, it depends where he is.
I want to know what has struck him most, as a native Johannesburger, being out in the country, far removed from the rush of city life.
“The incredible graciousness of the people,” he answers without hesitation, and the word “graciousness” comes up time and again, spoken with a sense of awe and deep gratefulness. “Great experiences,” he continues. “It’s overwhelming.”
Davie is a man who loves the outdoors. He is a veteran of the Dusi Canoe Marathon, a “Dusi rat” who has completed the taxing event 22 times. He knows mountains and valleys. Yet, he says: “I am blown away permanently by the beauty of the mountains, the people … It’s endlessly like that.”
Has he had any concerns about his safety? “No,” is the firm answer, and Davie suggests that it is the natural beauty of the land that has an affect on the people. “Violence is more an urban thing.”
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