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  • Writer's picturedirtyheart

Race Face: The Trail and Trout Stage Race.

With the Trail and Trout coming up from 19-21 April, we take a look back at last years inaugural race and give you some insight into what you can expect from this Wildtrail event. Ride from the far eastern border of Gauteng and finish at the magical Elandskloof Trout Farm just 10km outside of Dullstroom (SA's trout "capital"). Experience 3 days of blissful mountain biking on lovely country roads that will take you to the waving and mystical landscapes of the highlands meander. Rebecca Sands tells us her experience of this magical highland meander.

"For some reason, I had Sani2C FOMO blues in a big way this year. As much as I bluffed that as I had done it three times and that was enough, my heart was heavy as I watched my friends post their check ins at the Sani race village. Oh to be there again! But during my reverie, I noticed another event on my calendar that I had entered.. the new Trail and Trout Stage Race. Ok, I thought, this will be a good distraction and it has the added advantage of starting close to home. Over the few weeks prior to their inaugural event, we got several beautiful emails from Debbie Agenbach giving us route teasers and essential information. As the Facebook posts promised more and more wonderful goodies in the goody bag and the pictures of the very nice tented accommodation popped up on their page, I began to get properly excited. My partner, Sean was supposed to ride with me, but he had started a new job, so I persuaded my friend Michelle Zulch to take his place.

The Trail and Trout was marketed as “…….an event for everyone so we have decided to NOT make it overly technical but rather focus on the beauty and the scenery in the true spirit of mountain biking” I was very excited about this as my technical skills are not fantastic. I was also looking forward to the small field of riders. No bottlenecks or impatient speedsters breathing down your neck as you tried to negotiate a single-track section is very appealing.

We set off to the race registration and start, traveling with a couple of our Benoni Rough Rider mates, Fabio and Darren. They were stage race virgins and Michelle and I enjoyed their nervous excitement over what the next three days would dish out to them. The start venue was shrouded in mist and the temperatures were low enough to make us shiver. As usual Debbie had it taped… hot drinks at the registration table and a super friendly MC in the shape of Erik Vermeulen got us warmed up and ready to roll.

Being used to the hustle and bustle of a large stage race, we found this small intimate gathering of mountain bikers quite a strange experience. It was almost as if we were heading off on a holiday together as we chatted to other riders on the start line. I saw Michelle checking out the competition and inwardly groaned. She is 17 years younger than me and a very good rider, I suddenly got the feeling that we were in for three days of hard work!

We left Ezemvelo Nature Reserve at a nice pace, behind the pace motorbike. The weather had warmed up and the track was good. Michelle and I had soon settled into a good pace and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery as we rode through the reserve and out onto the dirt roads. The roads to Loskop are undulating corrugated roads that cut through beautiful bush covered hills. After a while, we almost missed the turn off which would lead us to the first surprise of the day – the river single track. We rode along the river through a beautiful forest track. This was a lot more technical than I expected, we really had to focus to keep the momentum going up and down the small climbs as well as keep our wheels rolling around the tight corners created by the gnarly trees. Day one had been billed as the “Down Day” and we all expected it to be easier than it was. As we raced into the finish at Loskop Dam, Da Villa Lodge, both Michelle and I agreed that the 84 km and 1400 m of climbing had taken its toll on our legs. Once over the line, we were treated to a free bike wash and were shown to our Luxury Canvas Tents. This was definitely a step up from the usual stage race. We had camping beds rather than matresses on the ground, a small bedside table and the tents were tall enough for us to stand up in. The venue was vibey – on top of which we had a live band entertaining us around a beautiful camp fire before dinner. The Coffee Snobs were brilliant and the food at dinner was delicious. After a rewarding day we slept well looking forward to what lay ahead.

While we were lining up for the start of Day 2, we were told that we were about to ride the “up day”. Our buddies from the Rough Riders, Richard, Wayne, Darren and Fabio were discussing the 84km of undulating track that lay before us with it’s 1045m of ascent with some trepidation. I could see that Michelle was focused on improving our overall position today – it was going to be a tough day in the saddle!

The reality was that we found this stage a bit easier than Day 1, maybe we were warmed up and in the groove, but another reason could be that Michelle and I LOVE climbs! We chatted the 84km away, motivating and pushing each other mentally until the final water point where we met Eugene and Otto who had been racing ahead of us. They looked surprised to see us and literally sprinted away from their water stop – we didn’t need an invitation to speed off after them! The race was on! Although we did not catch them, we made up some good time and improved our overall standing. We enjoyed hot showers at the second race village and had a beautiful afternoon and evening around the camp fire. Erik presented the race pictures from the day at dinner and there was a high spirited “race briefing” where we heckled the route director to go through Day 3 km by km before settling down in our luxury tents for the night.

Day 3 dawned with lots of excitement. We were eager to race now, Michelle and I were lying third team overall and we wanted to see what we could do on the final run in to Dullstroom. We set off at a blistering pace along dirt roads and smashed the first few km. We found ourselves with Eugene and Otto as we turned onto a climb leading upto the first water point and technical section of the day. After a portage over a swollen stream we found ourselves in a picturesque valley with a beautiful windy singletrack trail. As we completed this, we heard shouts from the top of the hill – we looked up to see the single track climb that had been carved into the side of the hill. We were excited to see this – we had been told that although it is rideable, we may have to walk. Michelle and I had already decided that this was not on our agendas. Off she went at a fast cadence and smashed the climb. She was the first rider of the race to summit the “Spine” a tough, steep 3km challenge. I was hot on her heels and proudly got to the top pedaling all the way. After that the trail was rocky and technical until eventually we sped down to the dirt roads that weaved their way through the trout farms on the outskirts of Dullstroom. We had a special treat waiting for us before we got to the finish at Elanskloof Trout Farm. A section of twisty single track through a forest. I chuckled as I heard Michelle’s whoops and yells as she sped through the track. We were definitely finishing on a high. As we finally rolled into the finish, 67km ridden with less than 1000m of climbing, we were welcomed by our families and the brilliant news that we were third overall as well as the first ladies team home.

This event was a highlight for me and all of the other riders we spoke to. Well done Wild Trail SA, Debbie and her team got this one right – a hard thing to do for an inaugural event. We will be back! "

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