Day 4 is from Romansfontein to Elandsberg with 105km of riding and 1290m of ascent. A manageable day that includes two of the signature portages of the Freedom Trail, the Aasvoelberg and Elandsberg. It is a day when riders will experience two of the best downhills one can ever ride and come as close as one can get to skydiving on terra firma on a mountain bike, virtually free-falling into the Karoo basin.
The looming ascent of the Aasvoelberg, less than an hour from the start and best navigated in daylight, will most likely dictate a dawn departure to reach the portage at first light where progress and navigation may be influenced by mist covered mountains. The old car wreck near the top offers one of the Freedom Trail signature photo opportunities and the descent down to Magdala farm is a thrilling adrenaline rush, white-knuckle, smell-your-brakes affair.
Barely a half an hour later the riders will reach a saddle in the Bamboesberg, another signature point of the Trail, from where they will be treated to a breath taking view that literally goes on forever over the Karoo Basin. It is a moment that brings most riders to a standstill just to take it all in. Once moving again they will make a spectacular high-speed drop down into the Karoo basin and then settle into some very welcome flat road riding and may even be treated to some Westerly tailwind time-trialing into the town of Hofmeyr. They are now truly in the Karoo.
Hofmeyr is a haven. It’s the first sign of civilization in almost 400km, real humans, traffic signs, a beautiful old church tower and of course the legendary Karoobos pie shop. I doubt anyone has ever passed here without stopping for some of the best pies around, venison, lamb and chicken (best to just get one of each), ice cold drinks, friendly people and some welcome shade, another signature moment on this classic day.
A mere 25km out of Hofmeyr awaits the infamous Elandsberg portage. A normal riding routine will bring riders here in daylight but those on a race pace may well enjoy a night time experience and the tricky navigation has claimed its fair share of victims over the years, all of which have resulted in stories that will live on for long in the annuals of the trail. No names mentioned but some of the legends of the trail have spent a night out under the stars, bushes or rain, after getting lost in the dark.
Once through the Elandsberg portage, the support station by the same name offers a very welcome stop with some of the best boerewors and pap along the route and more ice cold beverages. The farm has an equally legendary pet collection, among them a young dassie and a monster size boerboel that out-snores even the most tired of riders! It offers a welcome rest and for some may well be the last night out on the trail as they aim to double up the next day for a 5-day Cradock finish.
Day 4 is beautiful in its diversity and images from this day will leave a lasting impression.
By Carl Scholtz