ToHellAndBack #Day2: Like a Bat Outta Hell

“I like that it is a real-life MTB Adventure, without gimmicks and bells and whistles. For real mountain bikers, you know” … That’s the typical comment you get from #HellAndBackers once they bang into the under-belly of Gamkaskloof.

They’re usually saying this with a big-ass #DarlingBrew beer clutched in their paws, and with dust and sweat smeared across their smiling faces. Sometimes they’re too moeg or dors to say anything much, and just stand there, slightly dazed, but you’ll get the same shpiel from them once I’ve dipped into the inflatable pool, or hauled their asses into the shaded bar area.

Bottom line, the EcoBound Mountain Events #ToHellAndBack will always be one of those old-skool classics. No wonder it boasts the distinction of being SA’s first ever MTB Stage Race, notching up its 22nd running last week. What riders can expect is two days of bike adventuring into the remote Gamkaskloof (and of course a skop of note)!.

But then, what else would you expect from an event that has become widely known as the ‘Unofficial #MOVEMBER World MTB Champs’. Starting from De Hoek Resort near Oudtshoorn, competitors face one moer-of-a-trap into Gamkaskloof. This valley is colloquially known as Die Hel, for a number of reasons: heat and extreme temperatures, for sure, but also for the dangerously steep gravel strip you need to navigate into this back-of-beyond valley.

Even today, you can get there only via a dead-end pass with vertiginous drop-offs and erosion ruts of legendary proportions. The historic switchback – constructed by none other than master road builder, Thomas Bain – winds through the rugged and inhospitable Swartberg ranges, and it takes guts to get in there on a bike.

Once you’ve survived those deep and dark moments that comes with suffering up the never-ending Heartbreak Hill, or have jettisoned into the very heart of Die Hel, ‘The Warm Place’ turns out to be a rugged little corner of natural heaven … without the flashy brashness of most of your contemporary MTB events, of course.

A rudimentary tent village, crackling braai fires, loads of #DarlingBrew craft beer, red wine and the classy delicacies of ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ … dancing with the devil does not seem to be such a bad gig. Until you realise there’s a shiteload of ‘up’, and it lurks just a few metres beyond the startline in the form of Elands Pass.

It takes serious guts to crank these 26 switchbacks on morning-after legs, but you have no choice, bru. Ask me: I’ve done it on a few occasions, and there’s bound to be some serious suffering involved in the calf department.

Beyond Elands it gets easier, but not by much, until you eventually bleed onto Die Top. Wrestle your way through high winds, dense fog and wintry temperatures, and you will be home and dry as you zigg the more than 20km of downhill back down to De Hoek.

There will always be blood, sweat and tears, but with it comes huge dollops of satisfaction, and war stories which are sure to last you for a life-time. These are some of my images from Day 1, and I will be loading lots more during the rest of the week – enjoy, and shot for the laughs, guys.

This was also the first event where I shot exclusively on my new PENTAX SOUTH AFRICA DSLR system, and I seriously put the #K1, #K3 and #K70 to the test. Non-stop dust, rocky river crossings with lashings of spray, hectic roads and constantly changing light … the cameras did not falter even once. Usually a cross-over to a new brand means one helluva learning curve, but the #Pentax systems proves to be utterly intuitive. There’s more to learn for this old dog, of course, but that means the photos can only get even better. Shot Brett Skolmen and @newteltron – I am one happy shooter!

More info at www.ecoboundmtb.co.za

Click here to view the pics

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