Defeating the Sani pass and entering Lesotho country number 18.
Cycling up the East coast of South Africa always lent its big beady eye on Lesotho, a landlocked island of mountains nestled amongst the Drakensberg. Lesotho’s claim to fame, its lowest point, the highest lowest point of any country in the world, a daunting fact for any cyclist especially one carrying 35 kg’s of luggage.
The rolling hills of the Eastern Cape giving way to Kwazulu Natal and the Underberg which lay at the foot of the Sani pass and the gateway to Lesotho. Night time temperatures now well below zero as forecasts suggested -5 for the day I chose to tackle the infamous unsealed climb which reaches a heighty 2873 m above sea level.
I set up base camp 25 km from the summit and decided to set off for the lofty challenge at roughly nine o’clock in the morning. Waiting for the chill to burn off slightly and the frost to subside somewhat before putting my body and my trusty two wheeled steed “Little Ms. Sunshine” through the paces.
Heading up the pass on a mountain bike would have made a lot more sense but the touring rig I have become so intimate with over the last 14 000 km’s was as keen to conquer the pass as I was, and I thought it just plain rude not to give her the opportunity to notch up a serious off road accolade on her quest for global domination.
The first 17 of the 25 km’s on a rigid front fork was a bumpy battle to say the least but still manageable. Once I passed through the South African border post at 8 km’s from the summit the true colours of the infamous Sani pass started to shine through. What started off a manageable incline became so steep at sections of the climb I struggled to get traction on the loose surface, the heavy gradient coupled with my semi slick touring tyres made for a tough day at the office as I attempted to conquer this African giant on a road bike.
Being passed by four wheel drive vehicles carrying small tour groups to the summit I soon realised the flash photography was not aimed at the majestic scenery but rather a dread locked man on a bicycle battling nature with all his mite. Sections of the road completely frozen over I had to pick up the bike and carry it over slippery surfaces that threatened to send me to a tumbling death in the valley below.
Once I reached the summit after roughly 5 hours of grit and gravel I made my way to the Lesotho immigration office, the gentleman behind the counter suggesting that I didn’t need a stamp if all I intended to do was conquer the pass and head back down, explaining to him that after the last 5 hour battle on a bicycle I ‘’ needed ‘’ a stamp, he chuckled took one look at my mud covered bike and with a big warm Lesotho smile stamped my tattered passport.
After a couple of celebratory drinks at what must be one of the highest pubs around I embarked on the descent, a downhill challenge that would see me break 2 spokes, slash my front tyre on a jaggered rock and burst 2 inner tubes, arriving back at base camp well after dark but just in the nick of time to scribble down 1 X suspension shocks on my Christmas hit list, shortly followed by 12 hours of pure uninterrupted sleep.
A week to celebrate as I reached 14 000 Global Wheeling km’s plus a previous 16 000 before the charity drive began, rounding off 30 000 carbon free kilometers on a bike on four different continents. Back down to the coastline of Kwazulu Natal and the shores of Durban in search of warmer climes and the route north east towards Swaziland.