On an early autumn Sunday morning, I decided to explore the mountain biking trails at Thaba Trails to the south of Johannesburg. I planned to have a casual trail ride followed by a plate of biryani at Bayleaf, my favorite Indian restaurant in the Fordsburg neighborhood of Johannesburg.
As they say in South Africa, I faffed around in the morning and finally headed out the door a little after 08h00. I arrived at the Thaba trails parking lot in the midst of a lot of fanfare. Johannesburg trails get busy on the weekends, but this seemed out of the ordinary with banners, tents, booths, muscle cars, and a lot of people.
It turns out that I had arrived literally, just in time for the Thaba Eco Challenge, a charity event organized by Sojo, South of Johannesburg Business and Tourism.
I had to get a wristband to bring my car into the parking lot. The attendant explained that if I didn’t have the wristband upon leaving that he wouldn’t be able to let my car out of the lot. I appreciated the extra security measure. It is not inconceivable to have a car stolen from an event parking lot.
I found the registration booth and struggled a bit with both the loud booming music and the registration technology. I had arrived just half an hour before the race start time. I registered for the 30km race, which turned out to be two laps of the well-laid-out loop. I lightened the weight in my backpack by eliminating my snacks and headed to the start line.
The race had a variable start time, with the timing done through the Strava app. Racers could start at their own discretion as long as they signed with the group for the race. Many of us started together in a pack.
The race began with a climb that spread the racers out. My adrenaline kicks in during a race and even though I planned to just ride for fun, my heart rate spiked and I got tunnel vision. I rode hard. I had never cycled in the area before so it was all new to me. I didn’t know what to expect.
The trail climbed up and up, through grasslands and forests with rock garden downhills mixed in. Thaba Trails is located within the 450ha Klipriviersburg Nature Reserve.
There were hiking options for the event as well. Hikers and cyclists were mostly separated but crossed and shared the track a few times on the course.
I cycled through a herd of blesbok and zebras in the grasslands. Wow! What an incredible African experience! I would have loved to have stopped to take photos but my racing identity would not allow it. I also recognized some of the plants along the trail and found the scents of Artemesia afra and eucalyptus uplifting. I imagined their scents supporting my hard-working lungs.
I finished the first lap and took the second lap with more confidence, although my legs burned from all of the climbing. Even my arms were tired from braking on the steep descents.
I came through the finish line in a little more than two and a half hours. The day had heated up and I was ready for a rest.
I expected that I had done well and anticipated that I would be a top-three finisher in the women’s 30km race. I’d need to wait for the award ceremony.
That gave me a chance to wander through the booths and get a delicious bowl or rice and stew (poitjie) cooked up in an enormous three-legged, cast iron pot along with a coffee and a coke.
Now that I wasn’t focused on racing, I learned a little bit more about Thaba Eco Event Challenge’s charity partners. SOJO designated four charity recipients for the event, including, Dignity Dreams, Stepping Stones Hospice, Rotary JHB South 10, and Outreach Care.
I was delighted to see that Dignity Dreams was one of the recipients. I volunteer with Seeds of Light in rural South Africa and have been part of educating and distributing the Dignity Dreams reusable, washable sanitary pads to the girls and women in the rural communities. I had been looking for an opportunity to connect with Sharon Gordon, the Director of Dignity Dreams. And there she was, at a booth in the parking lot, next to the muscle cars!
So, I ate and rested and chatted with Sharon while waiting for the awards ceremony. It was such a lovely, gentle way to spend the afternoon.
I moved closer to the party tent with a dj and live music. Just before the ceremony, the DJ put on the hit song, Jerusalema, and people of all ages and ethnicities gathered in the hot sun to dance. I felt as though I had been dropped into a snapshot of modern South Africa. There was good food, goodwill, music, and celebration.
The awards ceremony brought me quite a surprise. Prizes were awarded for the 30km and the 60km mountain bike races with the men’s and women’s fields combined. I came in 2nd place overall in the 30km race! I was gifted a backpack full of goodies that I can share with friends. I was so pleased to have taken part in what felt like a true community event, knowing that my registration supported personally meaningful local charities. I felt a tremendous sense of welcome and support for my participation.
Thanks, SOJO and sponsors, including Balwin Properties, Group 1 Nissan the Glen, Uvex Sports South Africa, Thaba Eco Hotel, Del Forno Lemon Tree, Gold Reef City, GI-GO, and for creating such a lovely event. Many blessings on your future endeavors!