By Jeannie De Vynck

It’s 3:30 in the morning and the hotel dining-room is full. There is not a free table anywhere, so my brother and I join a couple at their table. We start with the usual chit chat, “Is this your first time?”, “Where are you from?”, and then the man’s story begins to unfold. They are from up north, Carletonville, and he is running this race after having fallen on a stake in a mining accident.Comrades Marathon

“Come again?” Our breakfast companion, Daniel de Wet (the “Sosatie Man”), had fallen on a 1,8m industrial crowbar which had passed through his body from groin to shoulder, miraculously missing his vital organs, but it did destroy one kidney and damage his small bowel. He had run it six times before and thought his running days would be over after the accident, yet after a three-year recovery period, he set his mind to again run this 90km race from Pietermartizburg to Durban – the Comrades Marathon.

This is one of the many heroic stories you hear about Comrades runners. From its beginning in 1921, it was run for a deeper reason than a mere race – that of honouring Word War I fallen soldiers, comrades in arms, and it continues to be a reflection of the depth of the human spirit today.

But what about the other tens of thousands of ordinary people who tackle this giant? (Almost 20 000 people lined up at the start in 2018.) In essence, there are tens of thousands of different reasons why people run it. As South Africans, it is embedded in our shared national psyche as something that brings together people, both runners and supporters. There is an historical narrative around the Comrades – the oldest and biggest ultra marathon in the world – that is rivaled by no other race.

Personally, I have learned many things from this experience, especially that a marathon can be seen as a metaphor for life. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. These are just five of those life-lessons.

1.You Can’t Do It Alone

As a confirmed introvert, long distance running is a perfect sport for me to just escape and be by myself for a while. However, Comrades is not an individual sport: you need other runners to get you through the training and I can’t imagine doing 90km by myself. Right from the start, you are part of a team with each member helping the others to make it to the finish. I owe my brother, Trevor, a huge debt of thanks for getting me through most of the race.

As I stand with 20 000 other runners at the start, fighting back tears as the national anthem plays, there is already an emotional bond between us. After singing “Shosholoza” together, the stirring opening bars of “Chariots of Fire” come on, which is always a bit of a cliché running song , except when you’re waiting in the dark at the start of the Comrades when it sends adrenaline through your veins.

The crowd support is as vital as the help from fellow runners. Even someone calling out your name can lift your spirits no end.

2.Enjoy The Journey

One afternoon, while waiting at the primary school gate at home-time, I noticed that the little kids run out of class. They run because running makes you feel happy. Sadly, by the time the Grades 4’s to 7’s come out, they are walking, and lugging ridiculously heavy bags. We can’t lose our joy in life! Besides enjoying the race for the pure pleasure/challenge of it, there has been some research done which concludes that those who smile while running can improve their times by up to 12%. (Research by Dr Brick of Ulster University)

3.Just Keep Moving Forward

At about 89,5km, with the Moses Madiba stadium in sight, there hung a banner reading, Asijiki. No turning back”. I had to laugh, “Really?!” But it does highlight an important aspect of marathons: you can walk but don’t stop. If you keep moving forward, you will get to the end. Sometimes, we just have to plod through life without giving up, no matter how much pain we’re in.

Comrades start

At The Start With My Brother Trevor And Friends Gail And Mike

4.You Can Do So Much More Than You Think You Can

When you start running, a 5km fun run seems too much, let alone a 10km, a 21km, a marathon…an ultra-marathon… but as you keep running, you realise that you can go beyond the limits that you had set for yourself.

5.Make Moments

At the end of most races, runners are handed a medal in a little ziplock bag; but not at the Comrades. The Comrades officials smile at you, congratulate you, and then put the medal around your neck. You feel like an Olympic champion and want to cry. It is a little ceremony marking a moment in your life.

After a full day, the firing of the 12-hour cut-off gun is truly dramatic to watch and devastating to those runners who just miss it. But it is all part of what makes the Comrades what it is. As the “Last Post” is played, I do give a thought to why this race was started and think what a privilege it has been to be part of the Comrades Marathon, “The Ultimate Human Race”.

By Dirk De Vynck

210km from Stanford to Still Bay in a single day


Andries de Villies and Dirk De Vynck on Malgas Pont ferry

Friday 24 November 2017 is still fresh in my memory. This is the day I successfully attempted and completed a gruelling (at least for me) 210km, one-day MTB excursion from Stanford to Still Bay with my dear friend Andries de Villiers.

Although I put in lots of training in preparation for the daunting adventure, this – at the tender age of 49 – was the first time in 30 years that I had attempted such a challenge. The last time was in the South African Defence Force when I completed the physical and emotional draining “vasbyt” phase of my leadership training.


“Vasbyt” involved a few days of harsh trekking through the “veld”, fully kitted out in army gear including carrying extra equipment to make the journey even more gruelling. “Vasbyt” was all about team work and being there for one another.

However, for Andries the day’s MTB outing through the back roads of the Overberg was a walk in the park. Andries is a veteran of many tough cycling, running and canoeing endurance events. His quiver of accomplishments includes a few Comrades, Berg River Canoe Marathons, Iron Man’s as well as the Freedom Challenge Extreme Triathlon. The latter is no easy feat and involves running the Comrades Marathon, then jumping on a bicycle and mountain biking across South Africa to Wellington in the Western Cape and then climbing in a K1 canoe to finish the Berg River Canoe Marathon – all within 26 days. Andries is part of only a handful of elite participants that have completed this gruelling journey, and he did it in just short of 20 days and 10 hours.

So at least I did not have to worry about dragging along any slackers on my Stanford to Still Bay trip.

And we’re off…

On Andries and his wife Coia’s Paardenberg farm, which was our point of departure, everything starts with a properly made, freshly brewed cappuccino. Andries loves his coffee and so it was par for the course that our MTB adventure started with two cuppas before we hit the road.

We left the farm in the dark in the early hours of the morning. The first stretch of our trip followed a gravel back road that leads along the Waboomsrivier until it reaches the R316 (tarred road) that runs through Caledon and Napier.

It started getting light while we were traveling along the R316 towards Napier and then Bredasdorp. As our luck would have it, we arrived at Mozart’s Restaurant in Bredasdorp shortly after it opened. We enjoyed a scrumptious country breakfast which, of course, was helped down by another welcome cup of freshly brewed coffee.

From there we turned on to dirt roads again making our way towards Malgas where we were going to have lunch. This piece of road turned out to be the worst part of our whole journey as it contained long stretches of open dirt road marred by corrugation.

White gold

It is on this piece of road that my stomach started cramping and I had to go; and fast. However, the problem was that there was hardly any vegetation in the form of bushes and trees to use as cover whilst doing my business. But finally, I did find some bushes, and just in time. This is also the day I realised the value of carrying a roll of toilet paper with you. No wonder they refer to toilet paper in some circles as “white gold.”

Fuel and pain

We reached the Breede River Trading Post in Malgas by lunch time where Coia and their four kids met up with us. This restaurant makes the most delicious hamburgers which we devoured, together with some Coke and (of course) a fresh cup of coffee.

I never realised that one’s body burns so much energy when exercising for such long stretches of time. This of course explained why I was constantly hungry, despite having a humongous breakfast and lunch. Added to that we had lots of “padkos” in the form of biltong, droëwors, energy bars and other snacks.

Next, we crossed the Breede River with the Malgas Pont ferry with Coia and the kids continuing ahead of us to Still Bay.

Although we were fortunate with the day’s weather, there was a stretch shortly after we left Malgas where we had to cycle in a southerly direction which was directly into the wind. But fortunately, Andries was gracious and allowed me to follow in his slip-stream.

It is in this last half of our MTB excursion that I realised that Andries was standing up and peddling instead of sitting in the saddle. The reason was that he was wearing old MTB cycling shorts of which the inner padding was almost worn out. This left him with little protection from the pain caused by his bike saddle.

Second wind

Reaching the village of Vermaaklikheid meant that we had less than a quarter of the way to go. And although we had already cycled around 160km, I got a second wind and almost did not feel the last steep hill that Andries had warned me about. Also, by that time we had already done so many hills that another one would not make much of a difference.

The last few kilometres were along the tarred road between Jongensfontein and Still Bay, and fortunately for us, also downhill.

It’s done

Finally, we reached our destination more than 16 hours later, ending the day with a welcome beer and some braaivleis.

The MTB-trip taught me that one’s body can take more then one sometimes thinks and that mental toughness plays a big role in overcoming difficult challenges. Also, doing these adventures with a friend makes all the difference.

Stilbaai map

Route Map

Mountain bike trails Stanford

Bike riders finishing strong at Stanford Valley Guest Farm

By Jeannie De Vynck

Andries de Villiers and Dirk De Vynck of Country Bike Tours & Trails were tasked with building the MTB trails and route planning for the 2018 Stanford MTB Classic two-day stage race.

The pair used and repaired existing trails on farms in the area as well as building some sections from scratch. All in all, four routes were laid out – two for the Lite race and two for the Full – adding up to about 150km of MTB trails which included single tracks, gravel jeep tracks and some nasty hills, taking the bike riders through the beautiful Overberg region of the Western Cape.

Around 300 mountain bike riders signed up for the untimed race. Although it was not a competitive event but more of a good introduction to mountain bike stage racing, it included all that you would expect in a quality MTB tour: top-class routes, expert facilities, outstanding food and professional organisation. The bike riders were particularly impressed with the spread laid out at the refreshment stations!

Race organiser, Anneke Viljoen of Freebody Sports, revived the race and took it over from Johan Kriegler who had called it the Stanford MTB Tour in previous years. The start and finish, along with the tented race village, were situated at the Stanford Valley Guest Farm. One couldn’t ask for a more beautiful setting, or a more talented caterer in Cornelli De Villiers.

The two trail builders, together with a team of helpers, worked late into the night to make sure the trails were ready for the days’ bike racing, but the hard labour (and near miss with a boomslang) were worth it in the end as the Stanford MTB Classic turned out to be a challenging and fun bike ride.

[Sponsors of the race and lucky draw prizes included: Sportmans Warehouse, Thule, Specialized and Raka wines.]

Why do we go to extremes, push the limits, explore the unknown?

MTB Western Cape Hermanus

Not too young to start seeking adventure (Above: Hermanus MTB trails)

By Jeannie De Vynck

Some of us seem hard-wired to test the limits of our risk-taking ability and endurance, while others push the boundaries in other ways, such as facing up to challenging phobias like public speaking. Whichever way this desire to experience life manifests, we can be sure that all of us have a seed of adventure nestling within us.

Our lives are frantic with attention grabbing stimuli, and coupled with the everyday practical demands, we are left swamped at the end of the day and just want to collapse on the couch. But at some point, we get fed up. We are not satisfied. We get bored. And so we respond to the call for something more.

Is this search for the “More” part of our human DNA? If we weren’t genetically made to discover new things and “just try and see”, would we still be hunter-gatherers living in caves? The story of humankind is a story of pioneering, whether this be out of necessity such as looking for food, or just out of a pure sense of curiosity.

Nowadays, most of us don’t have the opportunity to push through a scientific discovery or find a lost land, but we still have a primal urge to break through to the unknown. In recent times, many people are using endurance sports like mountain biking and ultra trail running as an outlet or a way to test their potential.

The top-end endurance freaks run for ridiculous lengths, race up mountains or suffer through extreme weather conditions – voluntarily! Is this a personality trait of just the so-called adrenaline junkies? On the contrary, it seems we can all face obstacles which at one point seemed impossible to overcome. Take, for example, how popular marathons have become. People who couldn’t even walk across the carpark without panting are now finishing 42,2km. Admittedly, they may do it in six hours, but they are still doing it.

Perhaps this quest for adventure is actually a deeper search for meaning. We want there to be a reason for our lives, and if the mundane doesn’t satisfy, maybe an extreme challenge will. It taps into the roots of human courage which we see in wartime or large-scale disasters and it echoes the grand themes of triumph, sacrifice, overcoming fear and boldness.

Pushing ourselves to the limit also helps some to overcome addictions or traumas. The adrenaline and endorphins associated with risk become like a fix. Our brains crave it. We feel good doing it. These moments of pushing ourselves help us to forget, even for a moment, the chaos that awaits us in our “normal” lives.

Endurance sport can become more than just a habit:  it becomes an identity: “I am an ultra runner.” “I am a mountain biker”. We gain self-respect and admiration from others by achieving these goals through pain, sacrifice and pure grit. Beyond giving us an identity as an individual, we gain membership to a community. Mountain biking or ultra-running may look like individual sports, but you actually can’t tackle such a huge task on your own – you need to become part of something bigger than yourself. A perfect example of this is the aptly named Comrades Marathon where you get the feeling as a runner that you are all in this together and the runners really do help each other make the distance.

For those not wanting to blast the limits, experiencing something like a mountain bike tour in a new country or area is adventure enough. Mountain biking is both an extreme sport like in the Cape Epic-type races, and a family holiday option in places like the Western Cape’s Overberg/Hermanus region where many new MTB tours and trails are springing up.

Whether we are aware of it or not, we all have a pioneer within, even if it is dormant at the moment. Embracing a new challenge may be just the thing to shake life into your world.

Paardenberg Farm outside Stanford in the Overberg is not just the venue of Country Bike Tours & Trails MTB routes, trail running tracks and hiking paths, it is also a beautiful place to go birdwatching. There is a wealth of bird life to be found in this fynbos region and a number of bird clubs have stayed at the Paardenberg Cottages for  a birding getaway.

Below is a list compiled by the Cape Town Bird Club and the Tygerberg Bird Club of the birds spotted round Paardenberg during 2014 and 2015.

  1. Apalis, Bar-throated
  2. Batis, Cape
  3. Bishop, Southern Red
  4. Bishop, Yellow
  5. Bokmakierie, Bokmakierie
  6. Boubou, Southern
  7. Bulbul, Cape
  8. Bunting, Cape
  9. Bustard, Denham’s
  10. Buzzard, Jackal
  11. Buzzard, Steppe
  12. Canary, Brimstone
  13. Canary, Cape
  14. Canary, White-throated
  15. Chat, Familiar
  16. Cisticola, Grey-backed
  17. Cisticola, Zitting
  18. Coot, Red-knotted
  19. Cormarant, Reed
  20. Coucal, Burchell’s
  21. Crake, Black
  22. Crane, Blue
  23. Crow, Cape
  24. Crow, Pied
  25. Cuckoo, Klaas’s
  26. Cuckoo, Red-chested
  27. Darter, African
  28. Dove, Laughing
  29. Dove, Red-eyed
  30. Dove, Tambourine
  31. Drongo, Fork-tailed
  32. Duck, Yellow-billed
  33. Eagle-owl, Spotted
  34. Eagle, Verreaux’s
  35. Egret, Cattle
  36. Fiscal, Common
  37. Fish-Eagle, African
  38. Flufftail, Red-chested
  39. Flycatcher, African, Dusky
  40. Flycatcher, Fiscal
  41. Grassbird, Cape
  42. Grebe, Little
  43. Greenbull, Sombre
  44. Goose, Egyptian
  45. Goose, Spur-winged
  46. Goshawk, African
  47. Guineafowl, Helmeted
  48. Gull, Kelp
  49. Hamerkop, Hamerkop
  50. Harrier, Black
  51. Heron, Black-headed
  52. Heron, Grey
  53. Honeyguide, Lesser
  54. Ibis, African Sacred
  55. Ibis, Hadeda
  56. Kestrel, Rock
  57. Kingfisher, Brown-hooded
  58. Kite, Black-shouldered
  59. Kite, Yellow-billed
  60. Lapwing, Blacksmith
  61. Lapwing, Crowned
  62. Lark, Cape Clapper
  63. Lark, Large-billed
  64. Lark, Red-capped
  65. Lark, Spike-heeled
  66. Martin, Brown-throated
  67. Marsh-Harrier, African
  68. Martin, Rock
  69. Masked-Weaver, Southern
  70. Moorhen, Common
  71. Mousebird, Speckled
  72. Neddicky, Neddicky
  73. Nightjar, Fiery-Necked
  74. Olive-pigeon, African
  75. Ostrich, Common
  76. Paradise-Flycatcher, African
  77. Pigeon, Speckled
  78. Pipit, African
  79. Pipit, Long-billed
  80. Plover, Three-rumped
  81. Prinia, Karoo
  82. Quail, Common
  83. Raven, White-necked
  84. Robin-Chat, Cape
  85. Rock-jumper, Cape
  86. Rock-trush, Cape
  87. Rush-Warbler, Little
  88. Saw-wing, Black (Soutern race)
  89. Secratarybird, Secretarybird
  90. Seedeater, Streaky-headed
  91. Shoveler, Cape
  92. Sparrow, Cape
  93. Sparrowhawk, black
  94. Sparrow, House
  95. Sparrow, Southern Grey-headed
  96. Spurfowl, Cape
  97. Starling, Common
  98. Starling, Pied
  99. Starling, Red-winged
  100. Stonechat, African
  101. Sugarbird, Cape
  102. Sunbird, Amethyst
  103. Sunbird, Malachite
  104. Sunbird, Southern Double-collared
  105. Sunbird, Orange breasted
  106. Swallow, Barn
  107. Swallow, Greater Striped
  108. Swallow, Pearl-Breasted
  109. Swallow, White-throated
  110. Swamp-Warbler, Lesser
  111. Swift, African Black
  112. Swift, Alpine
  113. Swift, White-Rumped
  114. Teal, Red-billed
  115. Thrush, Olive
  116. Turtel-dove, Cape
  117. Wagtail, Cape
  118. Warbler, Victorin’s
  119. Waxbill, Common
  120. Waxbill, Swee
  121. Weaver, Cape
  122. Wheatear, Capped
  123. White-eye, Cape
  124. Whydah, Pin-tailed
  125. Woodpecker, Cardinal
  126. Woodpecker, Ground
  127. Woodpecker, Knysna

First Paardenberg Trails Charity Race collects almost R8 000 for the Stanford Hostel

By Dirk De Vynck

Stanford. – The inaugural Paardenberg Trails Charity Race was held this past weekend in aid of the Stanford Hostel and succeeded in collecting R7 740 for their Learner Fund.

The race, consisting of a 5 km fun / MTB event, a 10 km trail run, and a 15km and 25 km MTB event, was held at the picturesque Paardenberg Farm, known for its beautiful setting under the oak trees.

The charity race is going to become an annual affair and aims to assist the Stanford Hostel at Okkie Smuts Primary School. Most of the hostel children are from a single parent background with poor surroundings.

Close to 80 people entered the days race activities with the 5 km event being the most popular.

The winner of the gruelling 25 km MTB race, which consisted of some serious climbing, was Johan Malan from Stanford. The first woman over the line in the 25km race was Jenny Hayes from Stanford.

The inaugural race also served as the opening of the new Paardenberg Trails, which features a 5km, 10km, 15km, 20km and a 25km. Plans are also in the making for a longer route that will stretch across the hill to the Stanford Valley Guest farm property.

A permit of R100 per person is available to use the trails for the rest of 2016. Otherwise daily permits for mountain biking, trail running and hiking are available at R40 per adult and R25 per child.

Country Bike Tours & Trails, the organisers of the event, would like to thank the sponsors that made the day’s event possible. These include Amanda Geldenhuys from Keller Williams Realty, Stanford Valley Guest Farm, Klein River Cheese, Euodia Cycles, Stanford Motors, Kiwinet, Raka Wines, Birkenhead Brewery, Stanford Spar, Square One Restaurant, Stuffed Creations, Antjies, Overberg Agri, and Overberg Honey Co.

By Jeannie De Vynck

The best of Hermanus cuisine recently featured in The Inside Guide with restaurant reviewer, Matthew Flax, picking his top twenty restaurants in the greater Hermanus area which also includes the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley and Stanford.

“Hermanus now boasts a plethora of good restaurants,” said Flax in his article “Our Favourite Hermanus Restaurants”.

The Manor House at Stanford Valley Guest Farm came out tops, with 19 other exceptional restaurants joining the list.

Jackie Lange, another food critic for The Inside Guide, said Manor House Restaurant was the “Jewel of the Overberg” and that “fabulous food, glorious scenic landscapes and fresh country air are food for the mind, body and soul.” The restaurant’s consultant chef, Madré Malan, is known for her superb country cuisine. “It’s soul food,” said co-owner of Stanford Valley Guest Farm, Elsabe Nauta.

Stanford Valley Guest Farm is a popular conference venue, and delegates can also enjoy all that the Hermanus/Stanford area has to offer when it comes to experiencing the wonderful fynbos and marine life in the surrounds, such as whale watching, shark cage diving, hiking and mountain biking.

The guest farm is also in close proximity to Paardenberg Farm from where Country Bike Tours & Trails operates it’s MTB tours and Paardenberg Trails for mountain biking, trail running and hiking. Bikers can ride from Stanford Valley to the Paardenberg Trails and back and can stop to enjoy the hospitality – and excellent coffee – of the farm owners.

Flax’s top twenty choice is as follows:

  1. Manor House Restaurant
  2. Creation Wines Tasting Room
  3. The Restaurant at Newton Johnson
  4. Springfontein Eats
  5. Seafood at the Marine
  6. Marianas at Owl’s Barn
  7. La Pentola
  8. The Pear Tree
  9. Gabriëlskloof
  10. The Source
  11. Fishermans Cottage
  12. Fusion Café
  13. The Barefoot Cook
  14. The Harbour Rock
  15. Mogg’s Country Cookhouse
  16. The Cuckoo Tree
  17. B’s Steakhouse
  18. The Eatery
  19. Rossi’s Italian Restaurant
  20. Just Pure Bistro
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