It’s hard to describe in words what takes place on an adventure such as this. The reality is, you needed to be there to truly grab on to the significance of a traverse through the Pondoland. Each day offers something unique, turning this challenge into a journey of discovery for everyone who decided to join.
We gathered at the Wild Coast Sun at the start of The Middle Challenge [Pondoland] to load the bikes. After a short briefing we were on our way. A 3.5hr journey took us right into the middle of the Magwa Tea Plantation which stretches out to the horizon on either side of the dirt track that cuts through it. It’s a picture of restoration, having been left to rack and ruin a few years back. Perhaps this was metaphorical of what would happen in our own lives over the next few days as we left our cell phones in our packs and engaged with our journey. Travelling by bicycle is unique. It is fast enough to travel a good distance in a day. It is slow enough to soak in everything you pass. It is simple enough to feel connected with the earth you are cycling on. It is, in my opinion, the ultimate way to tackle a journey. The excitement and anticipation rose the moment we were let out the bus and given our bikes. Game on, time to ride.
For me personally, the passion for these trips lies in watching people experience the adventure. It’s a satisfying people knowing what lies ahead and that each day will literally blow the minds of each ride. This became evident when everyone was impressed with the first waterfall we came to, a minor blip in the family of waterfalls we were yet to discover. Up next was the grand Magwa Falls. She is a sight to behold!
The deep gorges of the wild coast are what make this coastline truly spectacular. If I had months on my side I would simply try to walk or paddle up each of them. I can’t even begin to imagine what one would discover. Soon after Magwa, we sat on the precipice of Fraser Falls, our eyes lost in the forests below. The journey was unfolding. Ride and Rest, imprinting memories in our minds as we go. Soon after Fraser, we found ourselves at the top of the steep concrete strip that takes you into Mboyti and to Pumla’s place, our resting place for the night.
The sun rose over a dark storm out at sea. On the coast, however, the weather was clear and just right for the epic day that lay ahead. There are no free kilometres on the cycle to Msikaba. It’s a mix of beach cycling, river crossing, bike carrying and single-track riding. The 32km journey, all included, took a solid nine hours. Day 2 for me is all about embracing the detour. As soon as you leave the beaten track and head right toward the coast you are in for a spectacular find. Waterfalls plunging into the ocean and striking rock formations dot the jagged coastline of cliffs.
After each mesmerising moment we would trek back up to the path and push on. Soon we cycled past Champagne alley, through Lupathana, past Grosvenor where we rested at the tunnel dug to try extract gold from the wreckage… a futile attempt which proves human beings truly do think anything is possible. A great way to live! Vonnie’s Rest is aptly named, because that’s exactly what our weary bodies needed after we rolled in following a celebration quart at Jackson’s shebeen.
The following day we rose to head wind of note. It would simply not relent all day. Life included navigating challenges and adversity so the crew were ready to roll, no matter what the weather threw at them. I had to apply one of my own Middle Insights ‘Embrace the Detour’ and opt for an easier ride along with one of the riders the coast after waking up feeling under the weather. While he and I leisurely rode along the coastal path, the rest of the crew went on a 40km epic through the hills of the Pondoland, soaking in every nook and cranny they could before reaching the Mtentu river with their souls full. This was one of the best parts of the trip for me, watching each rider come over the river by boat beaming from ear to ear after the journey they had just been on.
By now we were deep into our journey. Time seems to stand still out there and it’s easy to get lost in everything you are experiencing. As I said at the start of the challenge, I don’t believe adventure should be separate from life. We don’t leave our day jobs to go on an adventure before heading back to the grindstone. We go on adventure to learn how to live life as an adventure. Everything we do, whether it be our marriage, our careers, our projects or parenting should be an adventure. Each day can also be a day of discovery, just like the journey through the Pondoland. The Challenge was simply a condensed version of everyday life. We went from a start, through The Middle, to the finish in a short space of time. Navigating The Middle is what we do every day. What we learn in one Middle we can apply to the next. The power of our journey wasn’t just in achieving each day’s goal, it was in the reflections, the quiet time on the bikes, the conversations and the learnings that come from stepping out the comfort zone. I watched fit riders, lending a hand to those who were taking strain, riders who had gotten bikes only a few weeks before the trip gaining confidence on the bike each day and riders who never stopped smiling or sharing anecdotes along the way. It was an absolute pleasure to be with the crew that joined the first Middle Challenge.
Our final day to the finish was just as it needed to be. Opting for the easier route, we found ourselves tackling 25km along the beach, crossing rivers, chasing fish eagles and stopping to take pictures next to the parts of old shipwrecks.
Soon the wild coast casino loomed up in the distance, marking the end of the journey. It’s a surreal moment leaving the beach and entering onto the casino roads. In a way it marks the end of one middle and the start of another as we feel the reality of going back to our ‘normal’ lives. A trip like this never leaves you. That’s because it shapes you and remains etched in your memory banks. I have traversed the Pondoland five times now, twice by bike, three times on foot. I can take you through each trip day by day given how real they still are in my mind. Same land, different context, different experience, different lessons. I am grateful that this is part of my purpose. To take people on an adventure and play a role in them turning their own lives into an adventure again. May this be the first challenge of many.
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Written by Travis Gale.