Tour de Pafuri 2014 Part II
Nick Galpine recces then rides this year’s Tour de Pafuri – three days of wilderness mountain biking in far northern Kruger National Park and an important event on Children in the Wilderness (CITW)’s fundraising calendar…
Before the main Tour de Pafuri event, we were tasked with unpacking all the guests' bikes, and some of the guides were soon deep in reverie as the bubble wrap came off the carbon-fibre dream machines. One or two were in pieces and took quite a bit of assembling – but fortunately a passing NASA engineer was able to assist. My old "farm gate" looked like a steam train by comparison, and believe me, you carry someone else's bike pretty gingerly when it costs more than your car!
Like many cult members, mountain bikers dress weirdly (teardrop helmets, spandex and bibs, like aerodynamic babies) and speak their own language, with much debate over the competing merits of hard- and soft-tails. Personally I found my own rear started out pretty soft but after a couple of days' riding over rocks, had toughened up considerably.
A leisurely ride on Day One drew first blood, when most of the riders careened round a corner into an unseen slough of grey sand and promptly toppled over. All of which was quite amusing when viewed from the tail gunner position, until it dawned on me that with everyone else having stopped, I would lose all momentum and inevitably fall over too.
The most challenging part was the thick sand trail to Lanner Gorge where those who had resisted the advice to let some air out of their tyres, soon felt a bit deflated themselves. But by hook or by Land Cruiser we all got there in the end, to be rewarded with spectacular views down into the Gorge – where else in the world can you look down on a sandy beach where the only footprints are those of elephants, whilst black eagles soar overhead?
Perhaps the infamous Pafuri pachyderms had been chilled out by all this beach time, but they gave us very little trouble during the event. In fact we saw far more buffalo as we traversed the Makuleke Contract Park. Punctures caused us more issues, although these were euphemistically referred to as “technical issues” to avoid any red faces. Of course in MTB parlance, “technical” usually means rocks or a precipitous slope, in other words, you will fall off – so this caused some happy confusion.
Thanks to Mari’s support from Jo’burg, tea stops became tea and cake stops, and suddenly all that bumping and grinding (of gears) made a whole lot of sense when you got to eat a boiled egg and a slice of delicious home-made fruit cake at the top of the hill overlooking the Benini Wetlands, or in a donga tree-shaded from the tropical sun.
When not in the saddle we made time for an extensive fines meeting (few went unpunished) and to search for the secretive grey-headed parrot, a psittacine so rarely seen that we had to summon it with a “similar” call from an iPhone app before we finally saw one upside down in amongst the blossoms of a sausage tree. By the final morning the appeal of gears and wheels had finally worn thinner than the Kevlar-sidewall tyres, and instead we set out to track eland or look for more birds, before a final hearty breakfast and the disassembly of all those gorgeous Scotts and Yetis (now abominably caked in red Pafuri dust, but somehow more noble for it).
A fantastic time was had by all, from Rupert the buffalo making his nightly rounds of the Camp to the effusive staff, whose very real happiness at seeing us return each day was matched only by their sense of puzzlement at why we were doing all this in the first place. As the dust settled on a successful event, the guides were left to contemplate their Future Life, and ponder whether it would be smooth or crunchy, and what they could do next that would be this much fun, and this worthwhile.
With huge and heartfelt thanks to Janet and CITW, Rob and Landi for their warm hospitality and logistical wizardry, Rhodes and Hein for keeping us out of mischief, Tina for the tea stops and all the Pafuri Trails Camp staff for taking such good care of the Dimension Data team and all of us. Special thanks to the cycle leaders Cameron and Peter for leading us home each day. Next time we’ll definitely let off a couple of bear bangers, but only after we find that elusive Pel’s!
Read the equally entertaining Part 1 of Nick's Tour de Pafuri report here.
Words Nick Galpine
Pictures Nick Galpine, Janet Wilkinson