I’m an  Oos Kaap boykie, so the odds were always spot-on that I would enjoy the Trek 2 Teebus MTB Stage Race  and the surrounding Steynsburg  region. But man, I had no idea how much of a jol this event would turn out to be …

Photographs & Words by Jacques Marais

The Area

The far-away and fabulous corner of the Karoo where the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Free State cosy up to each other utterly blows my mind. This oft-forgotten piece of South Africa is a space where wasteland and heartland collide, fusing a rich history which is unfortunately being eroded – slowly, but surely – by urbanisation, rural neglect and the economic collapse so typical of the platteland.

A ghost town – with an Olympic-sized pool – decays in the shadow of #Teebus Peak; Paul Kruger’s old house lies locked and forgotten off the R53; the Bulhoek Pass is pot-holed, overgrown and closed to regular traffic; Steynsburg has the post-apocalyptic feel of a dorp from one of Deon Meyer’s novels … And yet, the area brims with heart-warming richness and diversity…

Characters – like Oom Charles (ask him about his gunshot wound) – are larger than life, and country hospitality overwhelms you around every corner. What’s more, the Trek2Teebus route and landscape promise to blow your mind. It is a ‘Country Crank’ on remote tracks and farm roads tripping beyond the Teebus and Koffiebus kopjes looming up from golden swathes of savanna grassland.

You will be in your element as you weave amidst nguni cattle or meander through endless fields of mauve irises. This is mountain biking heaven, and you need to lay tracks here if you event want to begin to understand the attraction of this wonderful space.

As an Eastern Cape son, to me it was like coming home, I suppose. The Baviaans River Conservancy where I grew up is but a couple of hours away, and I felt like a 58yr old kid let loose within a familiar outdoor playground. Rooigras seeds in your socks, the Lego jumble of ysterklip koppies, the whistle of wild rhebuck in the highland ridges, the smell of the fertile red soil … it all felt comfortably familiar.

For more information visit www.trek2teebus.co.za.

Best Time to Visit

Winters are generally freezing, but dry, with soft rains often setting in during Autumn. Prepare for hot summers, with the temperatures easily peaking into the high thirties or over.

The Routes

As far as the riding goes, the best place to start is along the #Trek2Teebus route … Here you have three days of prime riding through the remote Karoo, making for a mountain biking feast of note. It is a bit like dipping into a liquorice all-sorts packet when you saddle up here, with gritty, off-piste enduro riding mixed into fast-and-flowy wilderness jeep tracks and endless, undulating gravel roads.

It makes for a phenomenal 3-day Stage Race, but it goes without saying that much of the route asses through private farms. This in itself is certainly not a problem, as the locals shoot to miss her, so you should be pretty safe! Jokes aside, all you need to do is speak to any of the farmers to arrange access before you set off.

Obviously, the event itself should go on your calendar. This is so much more than race, as it will allow you to plug into the full package of Karoo culture, cuisine, scenery and cranking. Neither the food nor the trails nor the people are perfectly groomed (you can get that at tame-and-lame events anywhere in the Western Cape), but that is exactly what makes this gathering so unique and exhilarating.

DAY 1 booms you onto 72km of rolling gravel roads and twisting farm jeep tracks, offering riders a chance to take in the wide-sky Karoo views. Most of your pedal journey unfolds on well-maintained and rolling secondary roads or twisty-turny farm tracks, so expect the cadence to be high.

The highlight of the day is a detour past the waterfall, where you need to keep an eye out for rocks lurking in the tall grass. Generally, the river is dry for much of the year, but if you get lucky, you may just get to witness a spume of brown water horse-tailing into the gorge down which the river flows after heavy summer thunderstorms.

Here in the valleys, the sparse Karoo vegetation become increasingly dense, with indigenous wild olive-, karee- and acacia trees dotting the rugged kloofs. There’s even a little section of Moab-style slick rock riding along the edge of the gorge, but make sure you keep your wits about you. The total ascent on Day 1 is around 900m.

Day 2 is a lot more technical, with an un-groomed 55km singletrack dipping through private farmland before you grit into the steep climb up Bulhoek Pass. This is your most significant ascent and therefore perfect for anyone keen to prove their ‘King of the Mountain’ status. Once you’ve conquered Bulhoek, my favourite section of riding kicks in along an eroded track dipping into valleys above Rocklyn Farm.

Unlike Bulhoek – which was once a public tarmac road that is now in complete disrepair – the descent from the plateau has and always will be gritty dirt, rock and gravel. The view from the summit boasts breathtaking vistas over the Great Karoo plains and Teebus koppies in the far distance.

Do your looking around before you tackle the downhill, because you’re in for a thrill ride of noet as you pin your ears back along the eroded chute. There are some interesting off-route playgrounds to explore, too, especially the Utah-ish landscapes to the right of Bulhoek.

Day 3 is a cruise crank of epic proportions, mostly dipping and sliding along flat, fast-flowing gravel roads. You stick to the valleys north of Teebus for most of the ride, with one cruncher of climb before on your approach to the public roads following the Teebus River.

There are stunning, historic farm steads along the route, with stands of ash, poplar, elm and cypress gracing the small dells. Once you’ve conquered the early ascent – around 20km into the 80km circuit – it makes for a ride briming with autumn glory, back-dropped by the butte outcrops of Koffiebus and Teebus gracing the distant horizon.

The final day’s riding is along public roads to Teebus Tunnel, where you can explore this engineering marvel as well as the ghost town which originally housed the workforce that built the canals linking the Orange and Fish Rivers. Head back to Harmonie Farm – where you can arrange camping or other accommodation options – from here, as the final 15km of the route is a mish-mash through farms and will only get you lost.

This makes for 65km of superb gravel biking and no need to worry about access, and therefore a very lekker morning or afternoon out on the bike. Outrides up Bulhoek Pass, or to the house where Paul Kruger was born around two centuries ago. This is now a national monument, but unfortunately falling into disrepair.

Squirt Top Tip!

Wet Lube vs Dry Lube – The SQUIRT Expert explains …           

There are many misconceptions regarding ‘Wet’ and ‘Dry’ lubrication. Wet Lube is not necessarily for only wet conditions, but rather refers to the fact that the lubricant remains wet once applied to the chain, generally because of an oily liquid base.  Dry Lube, on the other hand, does not contain any oil and therefore dries on the chain minutes after application. This is typical of a wax-based product like SQUIRT, because the carrier that keeps the lubricant in liquid form evaporates once exposed to outside air, but only after it has enabled the wax to penetrate in between all the links, plates and rollers of the chain assembly. These ‘carriers’ can be either a solvent or – as in the case of SQUIRT – a water-based emulsion (the latter option makes it more environmentally friendly). In short, SQUIRT Chain Lube is eminently suited to all riding conditions, as it will gather much less dirt and contamination than a regular ‘wet lube’ in both dry and wet riding conditions.

The Teebus River, swollen by the waters from the Gariep-Fish tunnel. Photo by Jacques Marais.

Fast Facts Block 

GRADING: Intermediate
DURATION: 3 stages: 70km / 55km / 80km
START POINT: Harmonie Farm, 12km west of Steynsburg
GPS COORDS:  31°21’30.07″ S / 25°43’08.30″ E
TERRAIN: Gravel roads, jeep track, single track
Trek2Teebus 3-day MTB Karoo Adventure
ACCOMMODATION Camping or Farm Stay Accommodation options
Very limited signal
www.petrichoradventures.co.za / www.trek2teebus.co.za

On the long road to Teebus.

Getting There

Take the N9 from Willowmore towards Uniondale. 3km out of Willowmore turn left to Baviaanskloof (signposted). Continue for 31km. At this point you will descend into the Nuwe Kloof Pass. Near the bottom of the pass keep going for another 7.4km, then take the road marked Cedar Falls Guesthouse and Retreat. Continue for 7km to Cedar Kloof Basecamp