Mashing the Merino Monster at Tankwa Trek

The wake-up call this morning came with unexpectedly chilly conditions and saw a lot of riders scurrying around looking for gilets and arm warmers. We duly wrapped up and after an eleventh-hour suspension tune and a desperate search for my contact lenses, we hustled into B batch with a few minutes to spare.

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The Karoo mornings are simply spectacular. Photo credit: Oakpics.co.za

 

Once again my legs weren’t at the same party I was and we adopted the age-old strategy of “go until you blow”. Figuring it would be best to get as far as possible, and hopefully enjoy the full glory of the Du Toit drop, before the inevitable mushroom cloud.

 

The Du Toit drop is a snaking three-kilometre switchback descent with panoramic views of the Ceres Valley spread out below. A recent fire has burned all of the vegetation, making the views even more spectacular, and lending a stark lunar feel to the landscape.

 

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A fire scarred Du Toit's drop . Photo credit: Oakpics.co.za

 

We pushed hard to try to get a good position going into the drop, but still had a bit of a traffic jam going down. It is a truly spectacular trail and we slithered along noisily, enjoying the dusty corners and epic views.

 

After the drop, we followed rolling singletrack for several kilometres until the first water point, which took us through an icy cold fruit packing shed. Then it was onto more rolling hills, all the while with the massive hulk of the Merino Monster looming in the distance.

 

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Riders charging up the old wagon trail climb. Photo credit: Zoon Cronje.

 

Finally, we rolled into the second waterpoint to refuel before the real climbing began. An old wagon trail took us upwards with a fairly comfortably gradient, and we trundled slowly skyward. Things then flattened out for a while as we meandered through stubble fields, moving ever closer to the base of the climb.

 

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Looking far too serious. Photo credit: Oakpics.co.za

 

The third water point signalled the end of any comfort for the next hour and ten minutes as the gradient kicked up almost immediately. It’s hard to describe this climb. In short, it is unbelievably long, painfully steep, and with the summit hidden from view for the first half of the climb, it is impossible to know how far you still have to go.

 

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This is how the pros attack the Merino Monster. Photo credit: Zoon Cronje.

 

One agonising switchback at a time, we spluttered upwards, with the help of Nick’s pocket when he could spare it. In hindsight, a smaller chainring would have been an excellent idea. Finally, as the air thinned along with my vision we hit the summit, only after the longest 500 metres to a water point I have ever experienced.

 

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Celebratory "We made it!" selfie.

 

After smashing handfuls of Bar One, we hit the descent. Impossible to describe, except as awesome. The kind of sketchy that requires speed to ride smoothly, but that speed could end in disaster with one poor line choice. It is arm-aching, finger cramping fun and if you don’t have shivery legs and a massive grin when you get to the bottom you are doing it wrong.

 

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Photo credit: Oakpics.co.za

 

After this, nothing on the remainder of the route could compare and we eased ourselves home at a comfortable pace (probably because I couldn’t actually go any faster).

 

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Photo credit: Oakpics.co.za

 

Tomorrow we ride 89 kilometres with 1250 metres of climbing, a relatively fast and flat route compared with the preceding days. It should make for good racing, and you can watch live-streaming of the pro’s on the Tankwa Trek website or on their Facebook page.

 

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Still the nail...while Nick cramps




3 Comments

DirtyDan, Feb 11 2018 03:39

Lekker ouens!
You did good and are giving us lesser-mortal, couch potatoes a great deal of envy.

marko35s, Feb 12 2018 10:39

As Dan said, but besides the envy this also makes the rest of us look bad too 

Hackster, Feb 12 2018 01:05

Some lovely photographs. Kudos