by Steuart Pennington

Once a year I, with some chommies, do a four day bicycle trip through the Karoo, organized by www.gkcycle.co.za (Great Karoo Cycling)

This year our trip started in Colesberg and ended in Bethulie, some 200 kms – aptly named “the Gariep Trail”.

It was really special even if, like me, mountain biking is not your main thing.

Why so?

Well first we, my wife and I, were thrown together with a bunch of compatriots, 14 in total, some from KZN, some from Gauteng and some from W.P. Truly, there is something special about being amongst our citizenry, even if the only thing we initially had in common was the ability to ride a two-wheeler with 27 gears. The warmth, the humour, the gentleness, the respect and the enthusiasm were quite extraordinary notwithstanding that there was a 25 year age-gap and a considerable variation in ability.

Second, the Karoo on a mountain bike is spectacular. As we rode through the Gariep Dam Reserve with herds of galloping wildebeest, pronking springhok, elegant gemsbok and clumsy blesbok kicking up dust just 50 metres from us in a rich sunset you can do nothing but marvel at what our country has to offer.

karoo_bb_foodThirdly, the quality of the B& B’s we stayed in was disarming in their simplicity, rich in their regional culinary character, and overwhelming with their honest warmth. True, after a 50 km ride you will eat anything, but the spread we had when we arrived was more than appetizing. Home made ginger beer followed by Karoo grown salad, smoked warthog venison, ‘boere’ boerewors, home made bread and biscuits with goats-milk cheese is hard to beat – and then there’s the melktert/creme brulee combo to follow.

Best of all, the riding and eating excluded, was the rich learning experience.

We took a tour, narrated by Anthony Hocking, of the many Boer War battlegrounds, we heard of the heroic British defense of the Bridge of Bethulie, of the daring exploits of Louw Wepener, and of the horror of the Bethulie Concentration Camp (where more died per capita than in any of the other +- 46 scorched earth policy concentration camps for whites and the 67 for their black ‘accomplices’). We visited the graveyard of the 1,700 white dead, so many under the age of 6, with hand carved headstones that would make you weep.