VICIOUS, LUSCIOUS CERES SINGLE TRACK
RIDE MAGAZINE, July 2003
You may choose, if you wish, not to take me seriously, but it will be your loss: the "Ceres ride" is the most taxing, the most beautiful and the most satisfying mountain bike event on the Western Province fun calendar. I would like to suggest that it would hold its own anywhere in the country, if for no other reason (and there are other reasons), than simply because, with its main event, almost all of the 48 kilometers is single track of the highest order.
Sponsorship is quintessential for survival and the full name of this "happening" is its raison d'etre: The Eselfontein MTB Festival/Classic has become a "festival" event, stretching over the weekend with the night race, a very appealing long-distance downhill and one of those silly, but entertaining events called "lake-jumping". The atmosphere at the farm throughout the weekend was more than just a little bit "party". Live music, impromptu singing, a generously stocked bar and the endless incineration and consumption of dead animals (in poor taste given the proximity of their next-of-kin) all set the tone - in spite of the unpromising weather. Not quite at the level of Dirtopia but certainly heading in the direction of fame and, hopefully, fortune. Total participation this year was 480.
The single track that sets this 'fees' apart goes up and up and up and often, radically down and all of it bears the signature of someone who rides - in this case one Deon Malherbe, on whose family farm, Eselfontein, this great wonder of the MTB world exists, in its entirety.
Until last year the "Ceres ride" was deemed a semi-classic but was, in fact a pleasant, but fairly tame event, starting and ending at the town's show grounds. No more. The long ride, an alleged 48 kilometers, is post-graduate endurance racing. It calls not only for a high level of fitness, but also for handling skills over and above any other 'one-looper' I have ever ridden (my skills were, in fact, found wanting, and I had to bite the bullet and do most of the ride with fractured rib). One always says of tough climbs that they are "relentless" and it is one of the burdens of the sports journalist that he quickly runs out of superlatives. The Ceres single track climb that begins as "Swaarmoed" (a name suspiciously like a nearby road pass from the Double Century) and then becomes with pity elegance "Dead Man Walking", is viciously relentless!
The weather looked quite promising in the morning and after a freezing night which followed a hilariously difficult night race, the manne were to be seen doing their warm-up stuff in those New Age, sleeveless blouses that do so much for their tattoos. In my enthusiasm for anonymity through conformity I too opted for summer. Of course it was a mistake. High up in the mountains the cold was intense, the sun having gracefully retired behind the clouds. Had it begun to snow I don't think any of the dead men or women who were walking would have been all that surprised. I must, however hasten to add that, in spite of these whinges, the setting was spectacular. The veld is well managed and ranges from old and established protea and leucadendron to decidedly Karoo "bossies" and, near to the farmstead itself, fruit trees and the, now environmentally unfashionable but no less beautiful, gray poplars in their autumn finery. More important, in management terms, was the condition of the track with suitable water bars in all the right places and other, obvious signs of time, effort and money unsparingly applied.
But back to the main event: Phillip Grutter who is very well known in WP circles as candidly cavalier and hard core, described it in his usual economic way: "This is the ride!". He, and others of his ilk, were obliged to take a deep breath or two, to walk and even (albeit briefly) sit under the odd tree. Perhaps it was different for the more competitive riders, some of whom were decidedly irked by an unfortunate misunderstanding with the route marking early on, although this was not an event that "counted" in any "important" area and if you weigh the slip-up against the whole experience, one has to hope that their disappointment has been resolved. Some riders claim to have done up to 60 kilometers while other thought they might have done less than 48. At the inevitable single track bottlenecks there was joking and ragging and tolerant comment on delinquent (and often disastrous) attempts to short cut the queue.
Everyone looked, at the end, as if they'd been out there and I heard, on the Monday, from a bike shop proprietor, that there had been lively and entirely enthusiastic responses from those of his customers who had made the trek.
This is more than justified. I have read for years of long sections of single track in overseas countries, and I have been envious: and here, virtually at my doorstep a wondrous new reality had dawned. As soon as my rib...
The various routes are open for day and weekend trail riders throughout the year (day trippers need to get a R20 permit at Erica's Caf? in Ceres). There is more than adequate accommodation (six two-bed huts - R80 per person, a lapa, camping and stylish plumbing).
Only group bookings are allowed at weekends and parties of more than 12 should bring their own tents. There's windsurfing on the dam and, wait for it - trout fishing! These are very decent people.