If you’ve ridden TO HELL & BACK – that iconic and long-running 2-day MTB Stage Race presented by EcoBound Mountain Events – you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If not, read on for a serving of some proper old-school MTB mojo.
Story and Photographs ~ Jacques Marais
Wide-sky horizons, heaps of headspace, the feel of true family hospitality, historic passes winding into a rugged wilderness area, and unmatched camaraderie … that’s what you get when you pedal into Die Hel. Yup, it’s no wonder the old hands refer to this as #TheOriginal.
TO HELL & BACK is the oldest MTB Stage Race in SA. It is all about gritty and no-nonsense cranking, with a unique and down-home honesty, stemming from the event’s family-run roots and values. Best of all, it is one of only a few events that does not fall into the trap of only catering for the 10% Elite Rider bracket.
Here everyone is on the level, with no VIPS, VVIPS, whatever that may be. Instead, it harks back to the days where weekend warriors ruled the roost, allowing those average Joes on dusty 26Rs to head out and claim their 15 seconds of fame.
Yup, you’ll see plenty of beer boeps and mid-field moegoes (speaking as a moegoe myself!), and they don’t come here to parade a R180k bike. Nee Pappie, they’re here to shoot the breeze with a few good mates, drink plenty of dops, and klap that dirt road into Gamkaskloof, proper hard.
Never fear if you’re not from the Platteland and have vegetarian tendencies: you’ll fit in just fine. There’s an even sprinkling of hipsters, hooligans and hotties, making the MTB Mix dynamic enough to never be boring. Yup, if you want characters – this has got to be the race you WANT to ride.
A quote I heard from one of the riders was that this is a ‘tour with medals”. And damn good T-shirts, I might add. In the end, it is all about a real-life MTB Adventure, without gimmicks or bells or whistles. “For real mountain bikers, you know” … That’s the typical comment you get from any #HellAndBackers once they bang into the under-belly of Gamkaskloof.
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.
The distance of 60kms into ‘Die Hel’ may sound easy, but one thing is for sure: you do NOT want to arrive here under-cooked. Day 1 includes one of the longest mountain passes in SA, with a total accumulated climb clocking in at 1750m. And you can bet your bottom bracket there are no free metres along the rugged and rock-strewn jeep track.
It also comes packaged with much of the obligatory blood, sweat and tears with the infamous Heartbreak Hill where tears many tears are spilled on this 4km mocking, winding son-of-a-climb. The constant illusion of having reached the top at almost every turn preys on your state of mind but all is forgotten at the start of the descent along Elands Pass into the finish line down in Gamkaskloof.
A rudimentary tent village, crackling braai fires, loads of 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 start line 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, extreme temperatures, and you will be home and dry as you zigg the more than 20km of downhill back down to De Hoek.
Best time to Visit
Summers can get very hot and winter days are mild to warm but nights can get quite cold.
FAST FACTS BLOCK
|GRADING:||Intermediate – extreme|
|CONFIGURATION:||Out and back|
|START POINT:||De Hoek Holiday Resort|
|GPS COORDS:||33°22’06.5″S 22°10’39.6″E|
|TERRAIN:||Gravel road, mountain pass|
|ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:||Check entry fees at www.tohellandback.co.za|
|FACILITIES:||4 Water tables and refreshments stations each way|
||Extreme heat – hectic ascents and descents|
|MORE INFORMATION:||Go to www.tohellandback.co.za|
How to Get There
Oudtshoorn is about 500km from Cape Town. From Oudtshoorn, follow the R328 in the direction of Cango Caves. The De Hoek Holiday Resort is 8km further, 35km from Oudtshoorn.