Discovering South Africa Over 900km with Sonya Looney

May 22, 2016
by Sonya Looney  
Joburg2c

The thundering sound of thrashing hoofs woke me up from my pedal-induced trance. The world went into slow motion when a herd of 50+ frenzied wildebeest, zebras, and kudus stampeded just 30 feet in front of me. A wildebeest from the fast moving herd panicked at the site of 30 mountain bikers, tripped and fell to the ground. Several others collided and rolled over him. The stampede began to change direction heading straight for us. I braced myself during what felt like several helpless minutes as the charging mob of African beasts barely missed us. The adrenaline spiked and shivers of excitement ran down my spine. I exclaimed, “Holy Shit! This is Africa!” It’s easy to forget that you are in the habitat of wild animals when you’re on your mountain bike and then you suddenly get that thrilling reminder that you are on their turf.

photo by Sonya Looney

I was only 25 minutes into an arduous 900km, 9 day stage race across South Africa called the Joberg2c. Sure, it was a race with number plates and lycra-clad racing snakes (myself included racing the Mixed Team category with Yuki ). However, the Joberg2c is so much more than trying to go fast on a bike, it’s an adventure for the soul, traversing 4 provinces. Originating just south of the largest city in South Africa - Johannesburg, the journey crosses corn and dairy farms in the Free State and through mountains to the coastal resort town of Scottburgh on the Indian Ocean. Each day, over 800 riders explored an average of 100km of the point-to-point self navigated course. For some, the Joberg2c was their very first mountain bike race and the level of ability ranged from novice all the way to world-class professional level. The light-hearted attitude of the event organizers and participants downplayed the difficulty of the course and each day, most riders found both their physical and mental limit.

We saw several stampedes of exotic animals throughout the vast African savannas. To the locals, beautifully striped zebras were as common as deer to a mountain dweller. Stage racing is about having an adventure you will never forget. A special aspect of the Joberg2c is its involvement with uplifting the local communities in the event’s 8 years of existence. The villages along each stop of the route were fully engaged with the event. School children crowded the finish line each day cheering, jumping up and down, handing off water and offering to wash bikes.

Photo by Yuki Ikeda

More poignant was the daily interaction with a leader from each local community. That person would give a touching speech about how cycling and racing tourism partnered with thoughtful event planners improved lives. The race donated hundreds of liters of clean water in times of crippling drought. Joberg2c has also improved literacy rates by nearly 20% with the construction of new libraries.

The South African hospitality is unlike any other countries. Endurance sports are mainstream in South Africa, there are over 40 stage races, and the organizations aim for 5-star race villages as well as challenging race courses. The tent village of Joberg2c had free wifi, free laundry service, live local bands, clean bathrooms with hot showers, and even an espresso bar! Each night felt like a party with local craft beer, big screen TVs displaying the happenings of the stage, professional videos and photos from the day with bumping tunes, and great storytelling about the region. It hardly felt like camping for the 9 days. Each hand cut trail had an anecdote from the trail builder. The three race promoters provided nightly entertainment on stage with funny jokes and passionate descriptions of the following day’s stage.

The first few days of the race were mostly through flat, windy farmlands on district roads with sporadic fields of bright sunflowers. The big-hearted farmers welcomed cyclists onto their land, who granted access solely for the Joberg2c. In fact, two of the three race promoters were farmers but also accomplished cyclists. You could find yourself winding across tufty grasslands and through corn mazes. Pack riding and drafting were essential with relentless wind blasting through the area.

Joberg2C Endurance Stage Race in South Africa from Johannesburg to Scottsburg. Photos by Em Gatland

photo by Chris Westgarth-Taylor

With winter imminent, and the race course being in close proximity to the Drakensburg mountain range, the morning temperatures hovered just above freezing. Each day became progressively more rugged with elevation gain, dramatic escarpments, and roller coaster like descents.

Joberg2C Endurance Stage Race in South Africa from Johannesburg to Scottsburg. Photos by Em Gatland

Most unique to this event were the floating bridges which rested on top of small bodies of water and bent and swayed under the weight of a cyclist. At times, the bridges were hard to follow due to the movement and riders would crash into the water! As the days progressed, the rural farmlands changed to picturesque hilly grasslands dotted with umbrella like trees. The occasional forested areas and alluvial valleys would be a relief from the daytime heat that reached nearly 30 degrees.

photo by Chris Westgarth-Taylor

Photo by Chris Westgarth-Taylor

The voracious appetites of fatigued riders were satiated with large farmers market style food tents. The Joberg2c offered a cultural culinary adventure for South African residents and the foreigners from 31 countries. Local chefs and volunteers from each village worked tirelessly for 18 hours a day to prepare food for famished racers. The dining tents often had several tables full of cakes, treats, and koeksisters (pronounced “cook sisters). When I heard people talking about koeksisters, I thought maybe it was what they called female chefs. Koeksisters are extremely sweet, fried twists of bread.

Photo Em Gatland

Photo by Sonya Looney

Karan Beef was a sponsor of the event so red meat was a big part of the daily feed. Grilled steaks cooked to perfection and lamb were regular offerings over the 9 days. Each day included national dishes like oxtail soup (called potjie) served from large metal 3 legged caldrons or Boerewors (bore-a-voss); a popular type of sausage made of mostly beef with lamb and pork chargrilled over an open flame.

Photo Em Gatland

The aide stations also included children offering boxes of koeksisters, condensed milk coated marshmallows, men clutching overflowing bowls of boerewors, and yet another type of meaty treat- Biltong. Biltong is a dried, cured meat that can be found at almost any store or gas station with many varieties. The event also had great vegetarian options.

The final three days of the Joberg2c were the same course as the famous Sani2C 3 day event that would take place 2 weeks late. Those days were the favorite of all the racers with the longest downhill called the Umko Drop, steep climbs, and trails undulating their way to the sea.

Joberg2C 9 day 900km Stage Race in South Africa Photos Jetline Action Photo

Joberg2C Endurance Stage Race in South Africa from Johannesburg to Scottsburg. Photos by Em Gatland

Joberg2C Endurance Stage Race in South Africa from Johannesburg to Scottsburg. Photos by Em Gatland

Crossing the final finish line of the Joberg2c is so much more than a physical milestone. It’s an adventure, a challenge, and an unforgettable experience that adds substance to your life. The scenery and rural civilization you see from your bike are unique and the community of people you meet will be a part of you forever.

Joberg2C 9 day 900km Stage Race in South Africa Photos Jetline Action Photo

Joberg2C 9 day 900km Stage Race in South Africa Photos Jetline Action Photo

Em Gatland Photography
Jetline Action Photo
Instagram: @looneysonya // Sonya's Facebook // DeFeet // Scott Bikes // Jaybird // Kask Helmets // Topeak


MENTIONS: @sonyalooney / @SCOTT-Sports




37 Comments

  • 35 0
 Wait, what's going on with the bike plunge there? Did they mean to do that? If not, poor dude #2 followed the wrong line.
  • 7 0
 I was looking at that too... The first guy dunked right in, but wondering why the second is following. Must be tired hah.
  • 7 0
 Those floating bridges man. If someone goes of on purpose or accident it pushes the bridge sideways usually messing up anyone close behind you. Now I would still love to know what happened to the first guy.
  • 7 0
 #2 guy didnt pick the wrong line. He saw is mate crash and went help him
  • 2 1
 @zidaen: Its a great idea. We don't need land for trails anymore just roll out the floating path. I wonder if they got those from the army engineer corp. They actually look pretty fun, to watch.
  • 3 0
 The whole thing is propably floating and not really stable with various people riding it at once. Must be sliperry too.
Prety funny pic tho Big Grin
  • 3 0
 the look on guy #2's face says it all
  • 5 1
 clearly, the lot of you didn't read the paragraph that precedes the photo haha.
  • 1 0
 Seems like even the third barely can escape.
  • 4 2
 @evildos: not slippery. It moves with the wind, but if you get your cadence right and look about 3 - 5m in front of you its pretty easy to ride. All those people are looking right in front of their wheels which is the classic mistake
  • 2 0
 @stretchza: Hehe, I would probably have ended taking a bath myself Wink
  • 1 0
 I looked at that picture and couldn't stop laughing because #2 was going swimming regardless... That race looked awesome..
  • 2 0
 @chillaxin: I had a whole sequence of photos from that section. I liked the one I chose because you can see #2's imminent swim Smile
  • 1 0
 @sonyalooney: yeah, i'm laughing my ass off. I can only imagine what went through his head as he hit the water, maybe it went something like this "Oh f...k what da hell"
  • 7 0
 very nice write up and nice to see my back garden getting some pinkbike loving
  • 4 0
 Awesome to see this here Sonya! Looks like an amazing event... any chance for an Umko Enduro?
  • 3 0
 Small water bridges in Africa??? Reminds me of that guide that got eaten out of his kayak in Africa. Crocodiles, hippos, and schistosomiases, oh my!
  • 1 0
 The "bridges" are probably just barriers to keep the Bull Sharks from migrating upstream.
  • 1 0
 SA is one of the most beautiful places I've been to. My parents used to live in Pretoria and I spent a bit of time riding around SA whilst visiting them, you cant beat seeing Zebra and stuff out in the wild.....totally different to seeing a Yorkshire terrier running wild in the local woods!
  • 1 0
 nice to see peeps talking about the floating bridge - as one of the organisers - I can say that it is a lot easier to ride than these folks made out. see ya all in South Africa one day.
  • 1 0
 I didn't find them super challenging but I loved the pics of people falling in Wink
  • 2 0
 Awesome write up Sonya! Keep on keepin' on
  • 1 0
 This just makes you want to participate, and for sure I would like some Biltong and Droëwors right now...
  • 1 0
 I did a couple of years back and its well worth the visit. Its an amazing part of the world.
  • 1 0
 Awesome write up Sonya. Any chance we might see you in Nepal this November?
  • 2 0
 Yes! I will be at the Yak Attack!
  • 1 0
 Awesome! See you there!
  • 2 1
 That just made me homesick!
  • 1 0
 Me too! Frown
  • 1 0
 Such a cool bridge to ride!
  • 1 0
 love my home south africa tend
  • 1 0
 Pielle!!!!! looks great and well organised.
  • 1 0
 having raced with Sonya before i'm glad to see a familiar name on pinkbike
  • 1 0
 Thank you! Smile
  • 1 0
 nice case
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