Over the years of living in Cape Town I’ve had the very good fortune of visiting the beautiful Overberg town of Greyton from time to time. It’s one of those step-back-in-time villages, nestled in amongst the mountains that start forming the dividing line of the Klein Karoo and the garden route. At different times of the year it looks like a different place, the dusty streets baking under the summer sun all but completely disappear under the brown autumned oak leaves, the wonderful wet and cold winter days pass by quietly in front of roaring fireplaces and glasses of red wine, while spring brings the village to life in an explosion of colour. I’ve been privileged to experience the town and its surroundings in healthy overdoses, from sipping morning coffees at the numerous village restaurants that spill out from under their canopy of oak trees onto the streets, to the mountains that envelope the village providing a bigger playground than I know what to do with. We’ve had some magic moments out there, from running the trail to Macgregor and back, hiking up to the back range of mountains, spending the entire day abseiling down the Noupoort gorge, and mountain biking around the area.
But it all gets a bit restless and you find yourself unable to sit still and relax, which is part of the lure of the town to start off with and you feel like a walking irony on Monday if your return from a weekend in Greyton more knackered than when you left. So I started trying to figure out ways to get the energy out of the system immediately on arrival. Slay the exercise dragons first, and relax later.
It started off as an innocent request while driving out there one weekend. “Please drop me off half way from the N2 and I’ll see you for coffee just now” The road in to Greyton runs for just over 30kms through a landscape of rolling fields woven together by rivers and dotted with trees, filled with shades of yellows and greens and browns and purples. It was an amazing outing if you’re up for a run where your only company is grazing sheep, cattle, and blue cranes and if you don’t mind slurping from the Sonderend river along the way. I learnt very quickly that running on Chapmans Peak is easy by comparison – the long open country roads need a different mental approach where you can see 5 kms down the road and around into the next valley, not just to the next corner.
That run was really just the catalyst for the next one. “Please drop me off on the corner of the N2. I’ll see you for coffee in three hours time” I wrote it off to training for my first 100 miler and needing those long endless hills but in truth it was just a good reason to get out there and run and drink in that landscape.
This happened a few times over but it was around the time that I got my eager hands on a bike that the ‘pre-Greyton exercise regime’ started taking on disproportionate measures. By now my long suffering wife Lara could just see it coming when I started proposing a change of route altogether to get there. “Lets go via the winelands, it will be much more scenic”. Followed by “while we’re in Franschhoek do you mind dropping me off and I’ll see you for mid afternoon coffee in Greyton” That ride was one of the nicest I’ve had, a long 7km haul up the Franschhoek pass to start off, followed by a beautiful descent down to cross the Du Toit river and ride alongside the dam before getting off the main road onto the quiet country roads leading to the village. I was riding into completely unknown territory, I’d never done this kind of ‘country ride’ before, and I absolutely loved it, the feeling of the big open spaces around me, the big open roads ahead and the big open sky above. I was hooked and from then on we went to Greyton via Franschhoek.
But I knew it was not enough. There has always been this quietly restless urge to get to Greyton, door to door, by means other than car. It’s the purist inside trying to invent this modern day romantic ideal that we can get from A to B without an engine. It took a while to plan, trying to imagine which would be worse – admiring the landscape while fearing for your life along the infamous Baden Powel to link Noordhoek to Franschhoek, or sacrifing the afterlife factor for a longer passage through Cape Town, Durbanville, and Paarl before reaching Franschhoek. In the end reason won (my wife would debate that I have any at all) and after loading the backpack and bike embarked on the long and winding north.
The weeks of 40C temperatures conveniently gave way that morning to soft rain and I was convinced, for at least the first 5kms, that I’d made a brilliant decision, that the weather gods and exercise gods had all shaken hands and agreed on a healthy pat-on-the-back send off out of town for me. Until the first corner on Chapmans peak. For the next 4 hours I had constant head winds that, with the weight of my pack, made every uphill torturously slow going. The changing of the scenery around me, from the clouds billowing up off the distant ocean along the coast road, to rush hour traffic through town (nothing gets a more bewildered look from morning commuters than a scruffy cyclist alongside pulling out a knife to carve a chunk of biltong – its a far cry from the expected sight of a rake-thin figure clad head to foot in matching-leopoard-print-lycra sucking on a meticulously measured energy drink), to the industrial container depots of Paarden Eiland, to the rolling hills of Durbanville and beyond, was proof of the progress, albeit slow, and by early afternoon I’d made my peace with the burden of the backpack as we lumbered along the final few hills towards the campsite on the Berg River near Paarl where I was to meet up with the family.
This is a lovely setting for a night, despite the stadium styled floodlight that came on and illuminated the night sky like twenty full moons all hovering over our tent, and it was good to have some relaxing time before the next day’s long ride. Up early on Saturday, fire up the breakfast and off again on the road to Frasnchhoek. No traveller should pass through here without a quick morning coffee at Sacred Ground, a gem of a discovery along the main road, before tackling the long Franschhoek pass. A healthy winding descent is the reward, made even sweeter this time by savouring a healthy tail wind out past Theewaterskloof dam, and onto the Helderstroom road. It was about 30kms out of Greyton that I realised just how trashed my tyres were after the Freedom Challenge last year, as the sealant suddenly came flying out like a garden irrigation pipe. They were officially beyond sealing anymore, so out came the tube which lasted at least 500m before suffering the same fate. A few nerve-wracking and frustrating few hours followed as the bike limped its way slowly to Greyton, but we arrived early afternoon in good spirits and happy to finally have made the door-to-door trip.